Merry and Melancholy: How to Find Joy after Loss
I remember it snowing on Christmas Eve exactly three times in my life. The first time was when I was a small child. I remember riding in our station wagon to my grandparents’ house and seeing snow on the ground outside the window. I was sitting behind Daddy (because it was my turn, not my brother’s, obviously, despite his protests to the contrary). He drove cautiously down the icy, snowy roads, because, let’s face it, in the Dallas area, there is always a layer of ice. And if we’re lucky, there is some white stuff we like to call “snow” on top.
The second time it snowed on Christmas Eve was 2009. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be my dad’s last Christmas. He passed away unexpectedly the following April.
It still hurts to type those words.
Let’s Be Real
My daddy is with Jesus, and I’ll see him again one day. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him. I still have moments of sadness and deep feelings of loss. And that’s okay.
Christmas without him has been hard. I won’t even tell you it gets easier. I think it just becomes different, and different becomes bearable.
But “bearable” isn’t the same as “joyful.” I had to think about this a little bit and review some of my own experiences over the last few years. Hopefully, you’ll find some comfort from my words here, but know that at the very least, you’re not alone.
As much as this loss changed my life, I still love Christmas. It is still one of my favorite times of year. My house still gets decorated extensively. To quote a friend, it “looks like Santa threw up.”
I framed some pictures of my dad, my brother, and me putting up Christmas lights when we were kids. They have a prime spot in the décor. I look at them and smile as I walk by. Joy and sadness are not mutually exclusive.
Glad Tidings of Great Joy
When I was thinking about joy, I thought of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Joy is second only to love in the list of things the Holy Spirit brings to our lives. I did a search in my Bible app for “joy.” Just about every passage it pulled up was either joy over something God had done, joy given by God, or joy in God’s presence. Hmmm…I think I see a pattern here. Word of warning—if you try this at home, be prepared for a long, long, list of references.
A couple of other patterns I see in Scripture are that joy often comes after or with periods of grief and that joy often involves expression in some sort of action.
Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” I really love that. It’s like grief is something planted deep, and it grows joy. Joy is something deeper and more rooted than just cheerfulness or happiness.
Before I move on to my practical tips and experiences, I want to say something to those of you who may have lost loved ones who didn’t know the Lord. I am so sorry. I haven’t experienced this type of loss, but I know that God grieves with you. You may not have the hope of seeing them again, but you absolutely have the company of their Maker in your sorrow.
Five Tips for Finding Your Merry
I am a deeply practical person. And oh, how I wish I could give you a step-by-step guide on how to get through the holidays without your loved one without sadness. I don’t think that’s very realistic or honest. I do, however, have some tips on simply making it through with sadness and joy.
I suggest watching your favorite comedy. My go to is I Love Lucy. It will never not be funny. We watched a few episodes the day after my dad died. And while we didn’t guffaw, we did smile and take a break from sorrow. I also love watching Inside Out. It is funny and a great essay on how our emotions interact, particularly the value of sadness and its companionship with joy.
I mentioned that I framed pictures of us hanging Christmas lights. This is one of my favorite memories, so it’s one of my favorite ways to remember my dad. Sharing memories with others is pretty cathartic, too.
3. Change Some Traditions, Keep Some Traditions
The holidays will be different without your loved one. It can help to acknowledge it and craft a “new normal.” My family celebrates Christmas at my house now, which is fun, even though we wish Dad was with us. However, we maintain the tradition of my Granny’s fried chicken, because, well…it’s delicious.
Singing is a great way to work through emotions even if you can’t carry a tune. Christmas music is one of the things that always makes you feel good—even the sad songs. I start listening to Christmas music in September. Don’t judge me.
5. Be Open to Others
One year after we lost Dad, my brother invited a friend over who was away from his family at Christmas. He enjoyed the fried chicken as well, and it was a blessing to his family that he was with good friends. His mom still talks about it. Don’t be afraid to make a positive impact on others even when happy is hard.
The third time it snowed on Christmas Eve was 2012, which was the first Christmas I spent in my house that I purchased all by myself. I wish Dad could have been there, but I know that Jesus is keeping him up to speed.
It has been my joy to share these experiences with you. I hope you have a rich, deep, wonderful Christmas. Let me know if you’d like to join us for fried chicken. Merry Christmas!
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