NANCY GUTHRIE: We all have the desire when we lose someone to know that that person’s not forgotten, that they’re not completely gone from anyone’s memory or from reality, and so it’s a great experience when people around us let us know that the person that we loved is not forgotten.

My husband and I host weekend retreats for couples who’ve lost children. So couples come from all over the country and they share this one really hard thing, and we talk about the common struggles of those who have lost a child and it never fails that we spend some time talking about how am I gonna deal with the holidays? Because it’s not gonna be like it was before. And they know as they head into the holidays that someone is gonna be missing and that there’s gonna be a great deal of sorrow. What are they gonna do with all those pictures and ornaments and stockings that are such a stark reminder that someone is missing? One thing that we suggest to them is to think about starting a new tradition. Oftentimes we get so stuck in family traditions, and they’re often built around the expectation of family members around us, that four parents or siblings have an expectation of this is what we do at Christmas. But I often tell grieving people that this may be the year you break with what everyone else expects of you, to do what you and your family need to do that will bring you comfort. I remember that first Thanksgiving came around after our daughter Hope died and it would was gonna be her first birthday and she wasn’t here for it. And so we took off from Nashville and we drove to Ashville to visit the Biltmore and that kind of thing and it was really good to… to get away and to not be here in our home, in a sense having to face the emptiness, but of course our sadness went with us. I think that’s one thing grieving people find is that even… no matter all the things you’re trying to find to distract you, oftentimes from the grief the, the sadness seems to come along with you. But to start a new tradition, something different you do with the tree, a gift you begin to give annually for… in the memory of the person who died, a place you visit that was special to the person who died, inviting people over that remember, can remember with you the person who died, those are the kind of new traditions that can come in the midst of grief and bring a sense of peace in the midst of those chaotic circumstances and in the midst of something you think is only going to bring pain, you can actually find peace.

Sometimes those of us who are grieving have very large expectations for those around us. We expect that everyone around us ought to know what to say to us, or what not to say to us, that somehow they ought to know what’s going to bring us comfort in the midst of this difficult season of the year, and it’s really rather foolish to think that anyone could read our mind. And so I often encourage grieving people, especially these grieving couples who come to our retreats. One thing I suggest is be straightforward with your friends and family about what you want and need. They can’t read your mind. And the truth is when you’re getting together with them at the party, or the family time together, they’re thinking about the person who died, too, and they’re wondering, “Should I bring it up? Should I not bring it up?” They want to do what’s comforting but they often don’t know what that thing is. So it’s very wise as a person who’s grieving to let people know ahead of time, here’s what we could do that would bring me a great deal of peace as we get together as a family. Could we set aside a time when we’ll actually talk about the person who has died? And let them know ahead of time we’re going to do that. And if you forget to do that, then be the person who initiates it. I can think of many people I’ve talked to who are grieving and they spent an entire holiday frustrated because no one brought up the loss of the person who had died. No one ever said their name. And oftentimes I say to them, “Well, maybe you should have.” You know, we have these high expectations for people, these hoops we want them to jump through, that they will know what to do, what to say, and sometimes we as grieving people have to take the lead and lead those around us to let them know, now is the time. I want to talk about this person who has died. I want to talk about what has happened.

Nancy Guthrie Extended Interview

“At Christmas I often tell grieving people that this may be the year you break with what everyone else expects of you to do what you and your family need to do that will bring you comfort.” Watch more of our interview with Nancy Guthrie, an author and speaker who has edited a book on Christmas peace.