Program helps the grieving survive the holidays
George Henson, Associated Baptist Press
December 03, 2009

Program helps the grieving survive the holidays

Program helps the grieving survive the holidays
George Henson, Associated Baptist Press
December 03, 2009

GEORGETOWN, Texas — Loss of a loved one through death

creates trauma, but emotions surrounding that loss can be particularly close to

the surface during the holidays. One church has decided to reach out to its

community by doing something about it.

In preparation for this stressful time, First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas, recently offered a “Surviving the

Holidays” workshop as part of its grief-counseling ministry, called GriefShare.

“Your grief is different; it’s individualistic,” facilitator

Sharon Kelley told participants. “Someone can understand your grief, but they

can’t know where you are in your grief.”

Participants viewed a video with insights about why the

holidays are especially tough times for those who have suffered a major loss.

It cautioned them not to avoid holiday pain, provided instructions on how to

plan for the holiday season and offered the hope of healing through

relationships — especially a relationship with God. The presentation also

highlighted warning signs, such as thoughts of suicide.

“Anytime there is a pattern of suicidal thinking, talk to

someone, because right now the only one you’re talking to is yourself, and you’re

not giving very good advice,” participants heard.

The holidays will just hurt

To fend off such thoughts, face the fact that the holidays

will be hard and will hurt. That way, when the bad days arrive, they won’t

inspire panic — because they’re expected.

Grieving people should not fake it, acting as if everything

is fine, participants learned. “Some Christians treat Christmas like Halloween.

They put on a mask,” Kelley said. The facade robs the person of the care and

prayer that friends and family would otherwise offer, because they are under

the impression that everything is fine.

In planning for Christmas, prioritize what “you need for it

to really be Christmas,” participants were instructed. Cut back on social

engagements if desired, and also farm out some holiday jobs if the schedule

becomes overwhelming.

Some may find a visit with family more tolerable when

scheduled before or after the holiday rather than on the special day. That way,

the grieving person does not feel the burden of performing for others on the

holiday, participants were counseled.

Healing takes time.

“It might not be a good holiday the

first year. That’s OK,” participants learned.

The GriefShare ministry at the Texas church had its genesis

more than a dozen years ago when JoAnn Goldston’s husband died. She looked

around for support, but found no biblically based help. She began her own group

at the church, calling it “Coming Alongside,” that met twice a year.

A few years later, the Christian small-group-resources

organization Church Initiative came out with the GriefShare

program. Goldston immediately was interested in it, because its video format

made it accessible for many to help in the ministry.

This year, 44 people participated in the three meetings. In

addition to the meetings, participants also have daily devotionals to help them

between meetings. When they meet, participants share how God has been working

with them. Then they watch a video and discuss it in small groups.

More people from outside the church are beginning to join

the group, Goldston said.

“There are four tasks we enable the members with,” she

explained. “One of them, and this is huge, is to acknowledge the person has

indeed died and will not come back.”

Living with ghosts

Many people relate how they hear a door open and expect the

person to come walking down the hall, or when they go on a trip sit down to

write the deceased a note.

“Another thing is to recognize the emotions they are having,

learn some ways to deal with them and that they all go back to God. So many

people, especially Christians, will deny anger. And anger is very much a part

of it. There has been a great loss. There has been a great pain. There’s going

to be anger,” Goldston explained. “We work with them on adjusting to different


For example, she said, if someone’s child dies, that child

might have been the one in the household who always set the table. Without the

surviving parent recognizing it, mealtime can become a time of great stress.

“Spouses have to learn to deal with there is no one to sew a

button on, no one to do the grocery shopping, no one to bring the garbage can

in,” Goldston continued.

“And the last step is being able to move forward, to

recognize they will have a new identity. They will not be the same person they

were before the loss,” she said. “Chances are very good they will be even

better — that God will make them stronger and more compassionate and more

sensitive and more of just anything you can think of. He just improves on the


Nonetheless, the holidays are especially trying on those who

have lost loved ones, Goldston admitted.

“For the holidays, expect that it’s going to hurt. It’s

really going to hurt because there is so much emotion connected with holidays.

And it’s not just Christmas and Thanksgiving — it’s birthdays, it’s

anniversaries, and it’s the date of the loss,” she pointed out. “There are lots

of dates that are different because of the emotions connected with them.”

But as the participants learned, God is there for solace.

“If you already have a relationship with God, the holidays

are an opportunity to grow closer to him. Tell him what you are feeling,” said

Paul David Tripp, a minister from Philadelphia.

“The person in pain and the person who is not presently in

pain are exactly the same person —both are completely dependent on God for

their life. One is just much more aware of the fact.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Henson is a staff writer for the Texas

Baptist Standard.)