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
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