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How Christians can help those grieving during the holidays

From candlelight memorials to simple words of encouragement, experts offer tips.

To help comfort those mourning a loved one this holiday season, the Legacy Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas, organized a candlelight memorial service.

As executive minister Bob Mullen explained, the congregation honored 50 people — including members and extended family — who died this year.

The church also lit a candle to recognize all other members’ loved ones who had passed away but were not mentioned specifically.

“The service was conducted by all of our shepherds, and there were 250 people in attendance,” Mullen said. “There were readings, prayers and a short devotional.”

Besides the candlelight service, the church offered two Wednesday night Bible class sessions about transition and loss, led by licensed professional counselors. Dave Sager spoke on “Helping Ourselves and Others in Grief,” while Jason Brown and Julie Scott addressed “Grief and the Family,” focusing on children and teens.

Related: Despite ‘unthinkable’ grief, Christian couple has hope for the holidays

In Michigan, the Livonia Church of Christ plans a Dec. 21 “Longest Night” lament service.

“We are inviting our community to join us on the longest night of the year for an hour of prayer, hymns and silent reflection,” minister of preaching Mike Miles said. “We recognize that holidays aren’t always merry. But we don’t have to lament or mourn alone. Together, in the midst of darkness, may we find light.”

Another Michigan congregation, the Plymouth Church of Christ, serves members and the community with GriefShare classes offered the spring and the fall. 

“Many people struggle with processing grief,” said Jim Calkin, the Plymouth church’s family and worship minister and a licensed professional counselor. “What we have been able to do through GriefShare is to allow those discussions to happen.

The emphasis started several years ago when two of the church’s families experienced deaths through suicide with just a few weeks of each other. “Our leadership felt the need to give those who were needing some help with their grief an opportunity to work through it,” Calkin explained.

Related: God can heal a broken heart

Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City hosted its third annual “OC Remembers” program in early December.

“About 400 family and friends of some very, very special Eagles gathered,” Oklahoma Christian President John deSteiguer said, referring to the university’s mascot, “as we celebrated the lives of employees, trustees and alumni who passed away over the last year.”

What else can churches and individual Christians do to offer assistance to those coping with loss, which can be especially difficult during the Christmas season?

Here are how some experts contacted by The Christian Chronicle responded to that question:

Allen and Jeanette Wiederstein, who lost an adult daughter and an adult son and lead the GriefShare ministry at the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma 

Jeanette: For me, I would say, “Don’t shy away from them.” If someone has lost somebody, you don’t have to have a lot of words, but just a hug. Take a pie by, and all you have to say is, ‘I want you to know I’m thinking about you. I just want you to know that. I’m praying for you.’ But we’ve heard this from people, that no one responded. They didn’t know what to do, so they didn’t do anything.

Allen: Or like people at work, they didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to make you feel bad. They treat you like you’ve got the plague.

Allen and Jeanette Wiederstein in her pre-K classroom at Oklahoma Christian Academy.

Allen and Jeanette Wiederstein in her pre-K classroom at Oklahoma Christian Academy.

Jeanette: Every congregation needs something like GriefShare, where they need to have somebody trained and going and visiting with these people. They need that. It’s as important as a youth group or anything else to me to meet those needs and let people know you care. They have to know that somebody cares for them at that time. It’s a very lonely — it’s just, you’re drowning, and you just need somebody to stand by your side.

Allen: You go back to your job and everything, and your heart’s still broken. I remember after we lost April, I was visiting with our neighbor across the street. … And he just showed up one day and gave us a pie, and he had tears in his eyes. He didn’t say anything. And that was enough.

Jeanette: But it meant a lot.

Dave Roberts, director of GriefShare ministry, and Kathleen Whitson, ministry facilitator at the Keller Church of Christ in Texas

The Keller Church of Christ has hosted a grief support program for almost four years. There are components of support to manage grief during the holidays offered in the 13-week series. There is also a stand-alone seminar, “Surviving the Holidays,” that we offer each fall. Combined, we have served over 100 people.

Only time, prayer, moving closer to God through his word and continuing to seek his purpose for your life help to ease the pain and find a new normal — a normal that focuses on moving forward for the glory of God.

Grieving is a process that covers many years, indeed a lifetime. At the holidays it seems to be intensified as it is juxtaposed to the expected joyfulness and festivities. Joy and sadness can coexist, but those who are grieving need to be helped to realize this is acceptable. People are often fearful of being happy or enjoying time with friends and relatives when their loved one is not there to share in it. Feeling happy or laughing does not mean the loved one has been forgotten or is being dishonored. 

Consider one woman whose grandmother died on Christmas Day a few years ago. Her grandmother had loved Christmas and served as the center of the extended family’s celebration. Continuing to express the love of the season and enjoying every phase of the celebration is viewed as a way to honor and celebrate her grandmother’s life.

Grief is complex, and everyone experiences it differently. The holidays just seem to magnify the sorrow and put a spotlight on the empty place left by that person. Also, the first year is considered the worst. Yet it is filled with such shock, dealing with the business of that person’s death — the funeral, the will, sorting through personal things — that the real impact of the loss at the holidays may not hit until the second year. All the same processes for dealing with the grief apply the second year, too.

Only time, prayer, moving closer to God through his word and continuing to seek his purpose for your life help to ease the pain and find a new normal — a normal that focuses on moving forward for the glory of God.

Filed under: christmas grief GriefShare holidays National People Top Stories

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