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Christmas

Holidays & Grief

holiday grief peanuts


I can’t believe it’s been one year already.

Last November our family lost two loved ones. My uncle died unexpectedly on November 13 after a brief illness and my Grammy passed away on November 27, Thanksgiving Day 2014.

For our family the holiday season starts with remembering the pain of loss.

Not exactly holiday cheer.

We feel the loss renewed at the anniversary of their passing providing dramatic contrast against the backdrop of the holiday season when we are expected to be merry, lighthearted, and happy.

This holiday season we will miss family members who have been a part of the celebrations all my life. The warm feelings of comfort, joy, and peace of the holidays pair with reminders of profound loss and longing.

Our family is not the only one experiencing loss this season. I often think of a counseling client who lost his wife this year. He’s struggling to consider how he and his children will face Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time without their wife and mother. We are certainly not alone in our grief and neither are you.

Words are inadequate to completely heal grief but I pray the following words direct you and I to better journey this season of celebration and grief.

1. Remember.

Memory is a powerful tool intimately intertwined with emotion. In grief memory contains pain and sorrow but our memories also help provide healing. Now I’ll always remember Thanksgiving Day as the day we lost Grammy. It colors the day differently than before. As hard as it was to lose her on a holiday, seems appropriate to think of her that day because I’ll always be thankful for her influence on my life. Ignoring your grief may seem easier but it’s not a healthy option.

2. Cry.

Allow yourself to feel whatever emotion you’re experiencing today. In grief emotion seems to come in waves. Each of our emotions play an important part in life and in grief. Acknowledge grief and the accompanying emotion rather than trying to hide or stuff your real emotion.

3. Celebrate.

It’s ok to celebrate the holidays even as you grieve. Your traditions will never feel the same but finding your way to celebrate will help heal the raw pain of loss. In his classic book on grief, A Decembered Grief, Harold Ivan Smith writes: “Be guided by the reality that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays after a loved one has died.”

4. Gather.

As impossible as it may sound, do not give in to isolation in your grief. Surround yourself with others. You are designed for community. At Christmas we celebrate the reality that we are not alone. God is with us. Jesus also experienced grief following the death of his friend and met with others in his grief.

What has helped you the most in the past when you’ve faced grief during the holidays?


Other posts on grief and loss from Make Some Wonderful:

What your spouse really needs in times of loss

4 Steps to Overcome Loaded Loss

Minor Loss Matters in Marriage

Related– The Secret to Delighting Your Spouse This Christmas: A Life Lesson From My Grammy


The Secret to Delighting Your Spouse This Christmas. A Life Lesson From My Grammy

delighted couple


The Secret to Delighting Your Spouse This Christmas. A life Lesson From My Grammy

One of my holiday bucket list items is to delight my spouse. When I imagine the perfect Christmas I see our family snuggling next to the fire. I look toward my wife and I see her contented smile. Delighting my wife is a wonderful gift; nothing is better.

Delighting your spouse may seem like the most complicated algorithm possible. I’ve certainly not perfected it. Check out my post about my marriage mistakes. (LINK mistakes)

My Grammy taught me the secret to delighting my spouse. She’d be surprised but thrilled I learned it from her.

She passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2014. I miss her hugs the most. Read about Holiday Grief.

You see Grammy lived the secret; it’s simply who she was.

Grammy was especially easy to delight.

Every birthday or Christmas she was delighted by whatever gift she received.

I’ll never forget her genuine squeals of delight and feet stomping followed by “oh you shouldn’t have.”

I always loved giving my Grammy a gift. The true gift was watching her delight and knowing she delighted in me.

The same can happen in your marriage.

The secret to delighting your spouse is to be easily delighted yourself.

Because your spouse loves you and wants you to be happy, seeing you happy is the best gift.

This Christmas season, be like my Grammy. Simply delight in the moment.

The Best Movie of the Year (and How it Can Transform Your Marriage)


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Movies magically transport viewers into stories. The best stories create powerful emotion in those who experience them. You know a good movie when you feel it. My favorite movies leave me feeling a strong emotion. Braveheart and Gladiator leave me feeling strong and courageous. Marly and Me leaves me feeling sadly reminiscent. The Sound of Music leaves me feeling content. I avoid scary movies because I don’t like to feel afraid. Rudy leaves me feeling capable and proud.

How we feel after watching a movie is the real measure of it’s greatness. If the story can go beyond entertainment and touch your emotions you’ve really experienced the story.

Emotions not only impact our experience of watching a movie, they also color our entire life. The greatest experiences of life impact us deeply because of emotion. Think about the most meaningful parts of your life; birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, your wedding day, the birth of your children. These moments are significant because you experienced strong emotion.

Inside Out by Disney’s Pixar (now available on DVD) is the best movie of the year. Watch the trailer.

Inside Out not only left me with a strong emotion like all great movies, but it’s also about emotion. The emotions of Riley, the story’s main character, take center stage. As Riley faces a series of changes in her life joy, sadness, disgust, anger and fear get to work. The movie brilliantly animates the abstract experience of emotion with a revealing look inside our minds.

Inside Out can transform your marriage if you apply these 3 lessons well.

Emotions matter deeply. They run the show and profoundly impact our lives. For a wonderful marriage identify your own emotion and then seek to understand the emotion of your spouse.

Our experiences and most importantly, our memory of these experiences hold emotion. Inside Out illustrates well how memories are intertwined with emotion. Get to know the experiences of your spouse. Their childhood experiences can be powerful as well as how they feel about their experiences of today.

Every emotion is needed. At first in the movie, Joy doesn’t understand why Sadness is around, but by the end, Sadness plays an important role. Don’t run from emotion in your marriage no matter how uncomfortable you feel. Respond to your spouse with love through all their emotions to build a strong connection.

I love emotion. Helping couples identify and use emotion to build a strong connection in their marriage is my favorite part of my job as a counselor. When you pay attention to emotion in your marriage your relational intimacy deepens. The same happens in your relationship with your children. The more you pay attention to your child’s core emotions, the deeper your connection. Your children learn the most about emotion by watching you and experiencing emotion through their relationship with you. Gather your kids, get some popcorn and watch Inside Out together. You’ll have fun, build lasting memories with good emotions, and perhaps it will spark new conversations about emotions. Pay attention to emotion and you’ll not only deepen your relationship with your spouse but with your children as well.

inside out color

1 Unexpected Way for Your Marriage to Survive Christmas This Year

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*Please note: I know it’s October and thinking about Christmas now either makes you nervous or makes you roll your eyes. Keep reading, you’ll gain needed perspective and practical tips. Besides aren’t you curious what the 1 unexpected thing is?

No matter the idealized version of the holiday season you like to imagine, the Christmas season will dogpile you with stress.

It happens every year, couples expect quiet evenings by the fireplace but end up blasted by the cold reality of holiday stress. For example during the holidays, you and your spouse have to debate:

How much do we spend on gifts?

Do we get a fresh or artificial Christmas tree?

How many $4 pumpkin spice lattes are too many?

Which church services do we attend?

What to do we do with the kids?

Which Christmas parties do we attend?

What is an appropriately inappropriate white elephant gift?

How do we tell your well meaning relatives we don’t want fruitcake?

Which set of demanding in-laws do we visit first?

How many family traditions do we have time for?

The list goes on and on.

No wonder the joy of the season is lost in conflict.

The great news is, your marriage doesn’t have to feel disconnected during the holidays. You can actually enjoy each other.

The guaranteed solution to holiday conflict is to fight with your spouse.

Yep a marriage counselor is telling you to fight with your spouse.

The more you discuss, argue, and decide the details of the holidays now, before they’ve even started, the less explosive connection killing conflict you’ll experience later.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to pre-argue every detail of the next three months of your life. Addressing the top two sources of conflict will get you started well.

Discuss your budget for Christmas including gifts, travel, and parties.

Finalize your budget in October for the months of November and December. No one likes the dreaded January Credit card bill. Avoid the January emotional eruption and discuss your holiday budget now. It’s ok to fight. You’ll prevent much bigger fights later. You’ll discover it’s much more pleasant to be proactive than reactive.

Discuss who you will visit and when you will visit them.

Decide now and you won’t have to debate it later in a more pressured setting. Making a decision together ahead of time will help you develop appropriate boundaries for your family and unify you and your spouse.

Simply talking about budget and travel plans can reduce conflict slightly but I challenge you to actually make real decisions. Have the conflict now and make the hard decisions now. Leaving your discussion vague with no decision is as pointless as a decapitated Christmas tree. See what I did there? a Christmas tree with no top? Pointless. Ok, I promise no more cheesy jokes. Get the holiday arguments going in your marriage in October rather than late December.


buy ebook


My eBook The Best Holidays Ever: How to move from conflict to connection this holiday season addresses the 6 major sources of conflict in marriage and how to turn them into points of connection during the holidays. Get it now for only $5. It’s really an awesome deal considering it will save you hundreds of dollars, your sanity, and your marriage this holiday season.

The Light Has Come

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The church is dark and still.
One small candle is lit. From the front of the church the light spreads from one person to their neighbor as the candles receive the light. Slowly the light spreads like clouds parting to reveal the stars beyond. The flickering light changes the room from darkness to the warm glow of wonder and awe. I assist my son to light his candle. He is excited to hold fire, reverence and excitement mix as he watches his flame. Nearby, I see the faces of my family lit softly. The church is now full with the multiplied light illuminating the community. I see the people in the room but I imagine the community of Christians worldwide celebrating in this moment. I also imagine those who have gone before, who have left their legacy of light, the legacy of Christ in them.

The world is dark and anything but still.
When evil and darkness seem especially cruel, I remember; The Light has come into the world and the darkness will not overcome it.

That is worth celebrating on Christmas and every day.

This Christmas Eve I will celebrate the birth of Jesus with my family and experience the wonder and light of the season. The candlelight service on Christmas Eve is a spiritual experience and tradition that warms and strengthens my soul. Spiritual experiences are individually powerful but they also greatly impact relationships. When we connect with our savior, celebrate His coming, and His continued presence in our lives our connection in marriage deepens.

What are your favorite spiritually significant experiences at Christmas time?