By: April B. Pomerlyan, MA Ed, LPC

Picture of foggy, bleak winter dayAs Valentine’s Day approaches, I imagine that for many it is a happy time, while for others who have experienced the loss of a loved one, it can be a painful time.  The Bible and the behavioral sciences both have much to say about grief and loss and it is one of the common reasons people seek counseling. I would also like to share with you a bit of my own grief journey as well offer some ideas that may help you honor your loved one during holidays.

Many people have heard about The Five Stages of Grief (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler): Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance. These are described below. Remember, everyone grieves differently, and it’s completely normal to move back and forth between the stages.

Denial and shock protect us from feeling more pain than we can bear. This stage helps us survive and push through difficult times like planning the funeral. As the denial fades, we’ll feel more pain, but this is necessary to begin the healing process.

Anger is an important stage, as it reminds us that life is not fair. Our anger can be directed at anyone, including the person who passed, ourselves, someone who had betrayed our loved one while they were alive, or even God. If you feel guilty about being angry with God, I’d like to remind you that David, “a man after God’s own heart,” expressed his anger towards God in some of the Psalms. While it’s not healthy to stay in this stage for too long, it is a natural part of the healing process. Remember that every time David complains to God, he then also ends up praising Him.

Have you ever caught yourself trying to negotiate with God, or even the person who passed? While objectively, this may not seem rationale, bargaining gives us a sense of hope in a way (albeit false hope). We often ask the “what if” questions. “What if I had been in the room when my mom stopped breathing? I could have given her CPR and she may still be alive.” However, staying in this phase too long is counterproductive because we cannot change the past.

This is the most painful stage of grief. The realization hits us that our spouse, parent, child, or pet is not coming back. We may feel any range of emotions including: heartache, hopelessness, despair, numbness, and lethargy to name the common ones. If you have ever dealt with depression these feelings may be painfully familiar to you. The stage, however, is a necessary part of the healing process. Now for the final stage…

This does not mean that you are completely okay with the death of your loved one. Rather, you acknowledge that while the loss is painful, you’ll survive. You find a new normal. You realize that you can no longer call your grandmother with news of your promotion, so instead you call another relative who was also close to her.

I wanted to write about grief during the holidays because on Valentine’s Day of 2016, I lost my own father to heart disease. I experienced each of the stages of grief in my own way.  I am usually in the Acceptance Phase now, but holidays, especially Valentine’s Day and Christmas are the most painful for me and my family. We like to honor my dad on Valentine’s Day with a family dinner. Most couples celebrate Valentine’s Day in a romantic way but for my husband and I, it is a family holiday.

This is one way my family honors my father on a holiday, now let me ask you: are there any traditions, new or old you can carry on in honor your loved one?  Some ideas include:

  • Set a place for him or her at the holiday table, or if this is too painful, mix up your usual seating arrangements.
  • Volunteer your time, services, or money to an organization this person was passionate about. For example, if you have lost a pet, volunteer at an animal shelter.
  • Travel somewhere different, perhaps somewhere your loved one wanted to see but never got to go.
  • Write your loved one a letter and place it in a stocking for him or her at Christmas.
  • Memorial gifts: the first Christmas after my dad passed away, my sister and I made necklaces for our mom and ourselves with charms representing memories of my dad, along with a picture of him.

A comforting Bible verse I love is, “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 116:15).” Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote I heard from my childhood pastor: “If your loved one is with God and God is with us, your loved one can’t be too far away.”