Win Today with Christopher Cook

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Getting through the Holidays with a Broken Heart

And if you're hurting this holiday season, I'm giving you permission to feel it, experience it, and walk through it; not to live in it, but to not pretend it doesn't exist.

For millions of people, Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion in which families gather to give thanks, celebrate, eat calorie-dense food, and if you’re a Detroiter, indulge in the Detroit Lions’ annual Turkey Day tradition. But for a lot of people, Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season, a season in which the pain of a lost loved one rises to the surface and carries through into Christmas.

At least it does for me.

I Hate Turkey

Pumpkin spice lattes, falling leaves, crisp air, snow globes, and the smell of that terribly over-stuffed roasting bird don’t initially bring a smile to my face. Instead, they invoke salty tears the size of raindrops and a giant lump in my throat.

Holidays just aren’t easy to dive into. I don’t anticipate that they will be difficult. I don’t set myself up for emotional letdown, either. Nor am I holding onto grief that “should’ve been closed-up” after a neatly packaged two-year grief process (’cause that’s what the book says). And I’m most certainly not living stuck as a victim in self-pity.

But I am a human with real emotions.

And do you know what? I miss my mom. A lot. Three years ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, she went home to be with the Lord after an 18-year battle with cancer. That’s why Thanksgiving week isn’t easy to settle into.

That’s why I absolutely hate turkey.

And if you’re hurting this holiday season, I’m giving you permission to feel it, experience it, and walk through it; not to live in it, but to not pretend it doesn’t exist. On the subject, “grief changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…it is the price of love.”

I think of an acquaintance, Nate, whose wife’s battle with cancer ended in late September, leaving two young children. I think of incredible friends (whom I consider family) whose father/grandfather passed away earlier in the year. I think of an email I received last Wednesday from a reader in Missouri whose young daughter has an inoperable brain tumor. And I think of an incredible young adult—one of my sister’s students—whose mom is also battling cancer.

Deck the freaking halls.

Stuffing Sucks

A common misconception about grief and loss is that it is neat and orderly, like the pages of a textbook, but it’s not. In fact, it’s as unpredictable as Michigan’s weather. But too many people experience complicated grief when they don’t take the time to mourn thoroughly. The process of mourning is mission critical. In fact, if we never allow it to take its rollercoaster-like course, we’ll end up stuffing emotions that will eventually wreak havoc upon our emotions and physical bodies. And like the weird, moist texture of that traditional bread-based side dish, stuffed emotions suck. Isaiah 61:3 puts legs on that thought:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me…to grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion–to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit–that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

The promise of the Lord is that He comforts all who mourn, but we’ll never receive true comfort unless we mourn properly and thoroughly.

Moving On or Moving Forward?

Listen, I’ve moved forward over the last three years, but the connotation of “moving on” is not something I’m not sure will ever happen. Allow me to explain: the events I’ve experienced in the last two decades of my life don’t magically disappear now that my mom is in heaven. It’s not like I can close the lid and wrap a bow around that box, or take an eraser to the last 21 years of my life.

Instead, those experiences have created new definition to my purpose, my passion, and honestly, my pain. Moving forward has meant allowing every tear, every question, and every sleepless night to fuel the opportunity to help people—millennials in particular—get unstuck in a life that never stops moving. It has meant cherishing lunch and great conversation with friends. It has meant slowing-down to invest in more relationships. It has meant discovering incredible joy in making sure families within my reach don’t go without a nice meal or gifts for the kids during the holidays.

What is it for you this holiday season? Maybe the sting of loss rears its ugly head around the holidays. Maybe you’ve just experienced a relationship failure. Maybe you’ve just lost your job right around “the most wonderful time of the year.”

I don’t know what you’re feeling, but let me tell you straight up: if people are telling you to just get over it, ignore them. No one has the right to demand you ignore your scars. At the same time—and I’ll be gentle—there has to come a time eventually when you do stop licking your wounds so-to-speak, else grief becomes self-pity and a life that is characterized by victimization.

I stated the following in an earlier post, but it bears repeating: you can’t be “more than a conqueror” if you never have something to conquer. (See Romans 8:37)

The Gaping Hole

The other day, I made a statement on Facebook regarding the anniversary of my mom’s passing: “Three years ago feels like yesterday, and truth be told, the hole in my heart hasn’t gone away.” To clarify, the hole in my heart isn’t an open wound. It’s more like a scar that tells a long story—one that will stay with me for life.

And the gaping hole has been filled with hate for hurt, passion for people, and commitment to be a voice of hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless circumstances.

So this holiday season…

When you’re hurting, offer help.
When you’re in need of love, give it.
When you’re in need of joy, create it.
When you’re in need of peace, be it.

As for me, I may not do turkey anymore, but I am looking forward to some Southern soul food with my family.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friend. We really do have a lot to be thankful for, even in the midst of our pain.

Recommended Resource:

GriefShare’s “Surviving the Holidays” seminar is especially for people who are grieving a loved one’s death. You’ll learn:

  • How to deal with the many emotions you’ll face during the holidays
  • What to do about traditions and other coming changes
  • Helpful tips for surviving social events
  • How to discover hope for your future

GriefShare – Surviving the Holidays

  • Kathy Craig

    You are right, Chris. Grief isn’t something you “get over”. You get through it, with God’s help. 15 years since Gary passed, I can talk joyfully about him to others who knew him, but still occasionally with tears….even though I am happily remarried. You do move on, but never forget. Holidays get easier in time by making new memories. God bless you!

  • Dennis Marshall

    Chris , this is so true. My loss happened after the holidays in 2003 when my wife passed away. It took 4 years and a loving father in heaven to bring me past my grief. I now have a good friendship with a lady at Mt. Zion that is special. It is the first time since my wife went to the Lord that I am able to be that type of friend again. Even you played a part in that process too. Best wishes in your current pursuits and pray for me that God opens that door to what my next step will be in him.

    • Dennis, I’m believing that this holiday season and the new year are filled with rejuvenation and joy! All my best, my friend.

  • Lyn

    I am crying as I read this. You literally penned my heart. Yet, as always, you give HOPE, GRACE AND MERCY, just like momma. Missing her and my daddy-o, very much. Love you so so much and am blessed to call you family. Thank you for always sharing your heart and wisdom so very vulnerably. I am thankful for YOU. ??????

    • Thank you so much! Know that I am praying for you all in this season. No matter what stage of life one is one when they pass, loss is loss. Is it a part of life? Yes. But just because the sting of death has been removed by the Lord doesn’t mean that it is without pain in the process. You’re loved massive.