Christmas, Christmas holiday, Family, Grief, Heart of the Matter, Living through heartache, Walking by Faith

Heart of the Matter: Dealing with Holiday Grief

November 29, 2013
Cynthia: This is Cynthia, with Heart of the Matter radio, for women who long for the elegance of God’s wisdom. 
Christmas is supposed to be a wonderful time. I think of the angels, when Jesus was born they came to the shepherds and they sang “Glory to God in the highest, and peace and good will to men.” Because the Savior was born and there was hope for the world. 
But sometimes it’s not quite so pleasant if you just lost a relative, or maybe even the memories of that relative you lost at Christmastime, can make Christmas and the holidays to be very difficult. Today I have with me Janet Perez Eckles, and she’s going to share with you a little bit about how to handle that over the holidays. Welcome, Janet.
Janet: Thank you. I’m so happy to be with you.
Cynthia: Janet, this can be a real problem. Let’s talk about how we can handle this. Any ideas?
Janet: You know, the toughest thing is, as you just said, Cynthia, that the Bible tells us that peace and goodwill to men and you think of a peaceful, wonderful time of the year to celebrate. And because that’s what it’s supposed to be, and because it cannot, because of a heart being so broken because of the loss of someone, and as you said the memories of that loved one that was a year ago or ten years ago, it’s all of a sudden revived. It’s raw all over again, only because there’s something in you that says oh, I can’t celebrate. I can’t rejoice like everybody else is doing and put all this decorations and party and be in the spirit of joy when my heart is remembering the loss, the pain, the heartache. 
How do you deal with that? Especially if you have family who needs you to still be in the spirit of upbeat and enthusiastic and rejoicing. And I found a few ways, myself. My son was murdered and now it’s going to be eleven years and those Christmas and Thanksgivings, days of his birthday, which his birthday is coming up, those are really tough. 
But I found that, first of all, we have to recognize that we’re not the only ones. Sometimes when we’re going through those dark times we think oh, nobody else could ever know what I feel like. There are other people who are going through that, and other people who overcame it. And I want to be in that group. And I want to know how. 
So you make an effort to seek God to help you. And so often you find verses that say he will never abandon you, he’s with you. That’s comforting to me that the Lord is with me in my pain. That I can make it through the next moment and the next day, and put up the decorations. We’re not alone, truly helped me.
Cynthia: You know, if you look back in history, years ago they used to actually mourn for an entire year. And they wore black, they were not expected to go to events where there was laughter and happiness, or where they were supposed to mingle. And as they came out of mourning they kind of changed the color of their clothes, I think they started putting on purple with maybe black borders or something, and that kind of helped people to realize that they needed to treat them differently, or that they might not be in a good mood. And sometimes I look back on that and I think that might be a good idea for us. But Americans don’t really want to grieve.
Janet: That’s a good point. I’m so glad you brought that up. That’s really really interesting.
Tradition, I could say, or the habit that we have, wearing black, that is very much alive in Bolivia where I’m from. If I were to visit Bolivia that’s what they would expect, for me to be wearing black for a full year after my son died. And you’re right. Heaven forbid have a party, celebrate a birthday, do any type of gathering where there’s laughing or dancing. That’s out of the question.
And you’re right. The American culture is not that way, and I’m glad that we’re not. And I don’t know so much that the American culture doesn’t want to grieve, only because in my ministry I deal with so many people who cannot get beyond. A woman shared with me there’s not a day that I don’t cry for my son. I will always be angry at God for taking him the way he did.
So there’s still very much of a mentality that no, I’m going to grieve as long as I need to and I don’t care if it’s until the day I take my last breath. I’m from Bolivia, my family, my Bolivian friends, expected me to be wearing black. Expected me to be just at home, full of gloom and tears and never to laugh again. But I chose not to follow that particular culture trait because that’s not what the Lord says. 
He says mourn for seven days, yes cry, yes go through the stages of denial, of anger, of gloom, of bitterness and acceptance and triumph. So I just sought God’s reassurance, his promises, his instructions, and his examples of how he dealt with people whom he found had lost someone. Like Lazarus, he brought back from the dead. Of course he didn’t do that for anyone in our time, but yet he was still with them.
And what was beautiful about Jesus, he wept with them. So that means he’s empathizing with us, with me. So that tells me that it’s okay to hang onto him and continue to go forth.
But one other really really important element is this. I heard one time a friend say, when I lost my dad the day my dad died I also lost my mother. She was never the same. She just crawled into a hole and she just stayed there. So I really lost both parents. And I decided Lord, that’s not what you want me to do. I could not do that to my other two surviving sons, to Joe’s brothers. Be the kind of mom that I was never the same again, I didn’t laugh anymore, I didn’t show joy. I wanted them to know that we know where our Joe is, he’s in heaven rejoicing. He’s in the glory, where we all want to be.
But, we need to see it differently. Not that we lost him, we’re separated from him for a period of time and I needed to have that added to that perception be reflected in me for my sons, for my husband, for my parents and the rest of the family. 
That has helped me so much to think beyond me. Oh you poor mom, you’re blind and now you lost your son, and in such a tragic way. Well, you have every right to sit there and just be filled with your heartache. And I could do that. That would not be God-honoring.
Cynthia: Right. I think the reason that I am so attracted to that tendency, and not that I want someone to be gloomy for X period of time, but that I felt like that when my father passed away that I was not allowed to grieve at all. Within a few weeks, obviously, it was Christmastime, and it was a difficult Christmas because he wasn’t there. And I found people saying oh, you’ll forget about it when X, or whatever, and they were trying to talk me out of the normal feeling of grief you would have within four weeks of your father’s death.
Janet: Wow.
Cynthia: I think it’s okay to feel pain. Christians are allowed to say out, and I know Dad’s in heaven and I’m okay with that. I just saw a tendency to say oh, you’ll be okay, and they tried to put a Band-Aid on it and make me stop feeling. And I think probably that close to a major loss it’s normal to be sad.
Janet: Well, here’s the thing. And this is when I coach people during this process. I tell them don’t ever let anyone tell you well, you know, it’s been months now, don’t you think you should be getting over it now? Or you shouldn’t be angry about that. Everyone grieves differently. Everyone goes through those stages for a different amount of time. I would never ever, like you s
ay, you’re absolutely right, never hurry somebody and say oh, it’ll be okay.
It won’t be okay. Your life has turned upside down. It will never be the same. And the length of time you give yourself to grieve, to feel all those emotions, it’s okay. 
The worst thing, though, is to think that there’s something wrong with you because you’re grieving longer than somebody else. Or you’re grieving longer than you should. I think in every stage we cling to the Word and seek God’s help for strength to go through each of these stages.
The key to know is that I will be, one day, feeling better. I will give myself the permission to laugh again. Maybe not today, maybe it’s not this week or this month, but I know I will again. Because that is the fear. You feel like how could I ever be the same, how could I ever live again after such a traumatic heartache. But the Lord says you will.
Cynthia: Yes. That Christmas, my father died and we buried him the day before Thanksgiving. That was the Christmas that the doctor told me well, you’ve got some issues with your teeth, you need to have gum surgery. So right after my dad died I had gum surgery, and then I got sick, and then we had Christmas. So physically I was worn out, worn down, and then I had still grieving the death of my father by Christmastime, and I recall that as being a pretty miserable Christmas. 
People didn’t want to hear me say that. But that’s the truth. And so the Sunday after Christmas I just stayed home, because I thought I think I need to rest. I think that that’d be better for me than going to church and telling them how bad I feel right now. 
Janet: Right. And you were using wisdom to do what you needed to do. That is so, so important too. Not that you want to be so stoic and say I don’t feel anything, I’m fine now. Because doing that, it’s just going to hold all the feelings inside and eventually it’s going to explode. 
Yes. Recognizing them and knowing what you need to do for you for that period of time is so so important. 
Let me give you another example. Shortly after my son was killed I talked to another mom who had called me, and her son was killed shortly after mine was. He was run over by a car, he was walking on the road. And when she called me she told me how bitter she was. And she said that she was going to spend every breath, the rest of her life, to make sure the ambulance and the police paid for not responding when they should’ve.
Which I could never discount that. I could never argue with that. Those are her feelings. But here’s the sad part. Rather than look to trying to heal or trying to move beyond it or trying to just grieve, she was turning it all to anger and she was going to seek revenge. That is going to mask the pain, and she shared with me she can’t find joy in her family and her grandkids, she wants nothing to do with anybody.
That is sometimes a choice that we make. Are we going to spend all our time and energy to seek vengeance? Of course, when your father died maybe it wasn’t because of someone else who took his life, but in my case it was. Someone stabbed my Joe to death. And so I had to come to the decision of what is the rest of my life going to be like. Am I going to live in bitterness and sorrow and heartache, trying to see how that man can be punished? Or am I going to move beyond it?
That didn’t mean I had to do it that week or that month, but make that decision. We all do.
Cynthia: Right. And I could have been angry at myself, because my father had been in a home for about seven or eight months when he got sick, and I had just been so busy emptying his house so that he could afford to pay for that, that I had missed some of the subtle clues saying that his health was going downhill.
So I could have blamed myself. But after he died I went and talked to his doctor and we talked over some symptoms that I saw going on. And I realized that his heart failure had been progressing, but that he was coping well until all of a sudden he fell and he stopped coping. And it was probably inevitable. So I was able to let go of that and say I’m not guilty, no one’s guilty, it was God’s time for him and I can walk away from it knowing that he’s with the Lord. And if there’s issues in our relationship that I failed we’ll get to talk about that again in eternity and I can ask his forgiveness and he can forgive me, and we can go on.
So you do have to do that regardless of what happens. Leave it in the Lord’s hands.
Janet: I agree. Goodness, that’s really a tough one isn’t it? Guilt. No matter what happens you’ll think I should have spent more time with my son, or I should have done this, I should have done that. But if you think about it, the Bible says God has the number of our days already predestined. He already knows them, he knows when that will take place. And sometimes we give ourselves either more credit or more blame for what we do or don’t do, when we lost someone.
When we go through those periods of time of grieving, and going back to what we’re discussing today, it’s more emphasized in the holidays. Only because we’re all of a sudden put in that different group of people. And the group who lost somebody. We’re not like everybody else whose family’s intact, and of course they’re celebrating. Of course they have reason to cheer and to open presents and to decorate. They don’t know the heartache that I’m going through. And it’s that longing that oh, I want to be normal again, I want to be like that family.
I think wanting to have something you don’t emphasizes the pain. I wish my son were still here, I wish my dad was here again, it would be so different. But wishing for something that is not, sometimes can even be more painful. Instead of saying I do belong to that group of parents who have lost a child, whose child was gone tragically, I also belong to the group of triumphant people. Triumphant because Christ lives in me. Triumphant because of his power, of his grace, of his love that’s surrounding me right now. And he knows the heartache and the heart.
Choosing the group that you want to belong is also important. Either you’re going to grieve, or you’re going to move to greater places with it.
Cynthia: Well that Christmas I remember there were some parties that I ended up at, but I didn’t stay very long. Because the noise and the cheerfulness kind of bothered me. And I thought I just lost somebody, and so I would just tell them that I didn’t feel very well and I would just slip out. Because I knew I was going to be okay, I knew where Daddy was, and I knew I was going to be okay. So I just left, and people understood when I told them. That I would tear up and say Dad has not been gone long and it’s our first Christmas and it’s just a little hard.
And I still think of him, when Thanksgiving comes around, when Christmas comes around. Of course now it’s not as intense, but I do remember those things about the time. The heaviness is gone because I’ve let it go. But that first Christmas was very difficult to grieve.
Janet: I’m glad you mentioned that, because what reminded me also is that first Christmas after I lost my sight. I know we’re talking about losing a dear one, but there are other type of losses. I think a lot of people lose their independence. They lose their home, some place where they live a long time because of the economy or whatnot. There’s all kinds of losses that we sometimes will deal with.
And I remember that Christmas where the Christmas prior to that I could still see
a little bit. I could still see my little boys’ faces. I could see their smiles, even though faintly, but I could still see them. And the Christmas where I had no sight at all, I couldn’t see anything, all I could do is just hear what was going on. That was really hard too. 
Because you think of the time what it was like before. Like you, what it was like with your dad there, the warmth of his presence. And when I could see again and when I had my son. So yes, you reminisce and you wish you had the faith. And people, it’s hard for them to understand if you’ve not lost anyone. You think oh, come on, you’re with family now, we all love you, you should be feeling better, this is a time to rejoice and be joyful. But your heart is not quite there.
And it’s okay. I think it’s important that we understand it’s okay. We don’t have to be embarrassed, we don’t have to feel bad, we don’t have to justify it or give reasons. It’s okay if you want to just, like you did, step aside for a few more minutes and recognize okay, this is just time a little bit to myself. And deal with it the best way I can.
Cynthia: You know, I think there’s room in a person’s heart for more than one emotion. You can be rejoicing in the sense that Jesus came, that he died for us, and still have a little bit of grief in there too where you miss someone that was very dear to you. I think there’s plenty of room for both in our hearts.
Janet: I agree. 
Yes, there’s always that spot in your heart that will feel empty because of whom you lost. But that doesn’t mean that it has to rule your life. So you’re right. I think there’s still a time, for me, to think about him and to miss him and to think about his laughter and his kisses and his jokes and his wit. And it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with me just because I continue to think about it and to kind of wish I still had him.
But there’s also nothing wrong with me if I laugh again. If I enjoy Christmas again, and if I reach out to others. And that was the other thing I wanted to mention to you, Cynthia, is that what has helped me so so much is God has opened doors for me to reach out to others.
Because often, with the pain that we have, what is it that we do with it? We just focus on trying to heal and spend a lifetime trying to cope with it. Or there’s a time where you think I can reach out and use this pain and use the warmth of the love of the Lord and the comfort he has given me, to help somebody else. His Word says to use the comfort from him to comfort others. 
When we lost Joe I was about to finish my first book. But when it happened, it happened so suddenly and so tragically I thought oh my goodness I could never write a thing again. This is just too hard. Who wants to think about writing anything? But on the day of his funeral, as we were sharing, I shared the importance of accepting Christ as your Savior to guarantee entrance to heaven, and Joe had done that two years prior. So I was sort of ministering to Joe’s friends. The church was packed. And many of them did come to the Lord as a result.
And that’s what sparked a desire in me to my son’s death will have meaning if I choose to help others, to inspire others, to show them the comfort God has given me. So that’s when I decided to finish writing the book, writing the episode of him dying and how God helped me through the toughest moments. 
And that was very very healing, because for me then, the death of my son had a different purpose. Not just him being a gift to us for nineteen years, but it was being used by God in a different way to reach out to those who think they have a lifetime to make a decision for the Lord. 
So that is another way of healing, reaching out to others.
Cynthia: I was going to turn the tables on you, so you did it already for me. Let me take the position of someone who is on the outside and you just lost your son. What kinds of things would have helped you at that moment?
Janet: I tell you what didn’t make me feel better, and that is when people would say to me I am so sorry. That’s really strange, because that’s what you say, right?
Cynthia: Right.
Janet: I am so sorry. Well, when I heard people would say that to me, I took it like oh pity you. What they were saying is they were feeling bad, is what they were saying. I understand that. But it just emphasizes so much that that’s right, I need to be pitied because my gosh I just suffered an unthinkable tragedy. It was like another reminder, I am so sorry.
And you know what else reminded me? And I don’t think I’ve ever shared this in any interview. It reminded me of that’s right, you feel sorry for me, but you don’t have the pain. I wish I were like you. Your life is still normal. Your life is intact. You don’t know the sorrow, you don’t know the heartache. But I do. It was almost like a reminder. See, there’s another person whose life goes on normal and mine does  not.
Obviously I would never say anything to anyone, say don’t say that to me. I received them, said thank you. I think what helped me the most was the physical things that people did for me. That is they took care of the food at the funeral, they helped me with thank you notes. The fact that I’m blind, that was a huge help. Helping me clean Joe’s room. I think all those little things that were very tangible, very service-oriented, were very very helpful. 
And of course just the fact that they were there for me at the funeral and the graveside was really a sweet, sweet moment for me. 
What truly truly just was like a little warm blanket over me, was the fact that we were getting cards from people whose lives were touched by my son. I had no idea, and it was almost like oh goodness, thank you, Lord. His life did make a difference. They were very heartfelt notes, very specific details of how Joe was there to cheer them on when they were having a hard time in football practice. Everyone else would go and Joe would stay there and just work with them and work with them. He didn’t have to do that, and he was always there for them. He was always being a role model.
I had no clue. Of course Joe would never come home and say hey Mom, guess what I did today. And that just touched me so much. It filled me with so much joy to hear that and to have my husband read those cards.
Cynthia: So you’re saying the physical things they did, and the good memories that they had of your son, were both every helpful.
Janet: Yes, absolutely.
Cynthia: And the things that helped me were people would come to me and just simply hug me. I just felt embraced. I was embraced. Where people would come to me and say I’m praying for you, and that just really lifted a huge burden for me.
So if during this holiday season you know of someone who has lost someone, this gives you some clues. You don’t have to talk to them and tell them how to do it or tell them what to feel or tell them what not to feel, but just love on them. And let them know you care.
Janet: Absolutely. And again, and I’ve heard some comments made by other people too, are just the little things. Because the routine things that you think are so common that you’d be able to handle, sometimes you can’t. Like cleaning your house, clean your bathrooms, or fix meals. Because you’re pretty much numb. You know things have to be done, but there’s no urge, there’s no desire. But when someone takes on that task for you, at least for a little while, it is so so sw
And yes those hearts do mean a lot, definitely.
Cynthia: Right. And sometimes you’ll feel like you’re numb and then you’ll hear a Christmas carol that’s associated with that person and you’ll find yourself crying in the middle of the grocery store or something. So expect that to happen. And it’s okay, because that’s just part of grieving.
Janet: Absolutely. I would say those are healing tears. The tears you hold back are the ones who are going to, I think, deepen the pain, but it’s okay to let them go. And I think people understand.
Cynthia: Janet, where can we find you?
Janet: Oh, you can find me anywhere. Just Google my name, Janet Perez Eckles, or you can visit my website,, or on Facebook, Janet Eckles. And I would love love to connect with you and send you a copy of my book if you like, if you’re going through a tough time. All three of my books do deal with different aspects of grieving and rejoicing and finding and fighting that fear that sometimes we often fear that we will not overcome our deep heartache. 
Or you can just send me an email through my website, also.
Cynthia: And if listeners want to give feedback on our program you can email me at We’d love to hear from you and what you might like to cover in the future. Blessings to you, Janet. I enjoyed this.
Janet: Thank you so much. Blessings to all your listeners.

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