Preparing For The Holidays When Your Heart Is Broken

“Your mother has six other children. Why is it so important for you and your family to go to her house for Thanksgiving? She might be relieved to have six less people. There will be so many others, she won’t know you’re not there!”

Her response to my dilemma about where to spend Thanksgiving revealed my friend had no idea of my family’s DNA. There was always room for more at my mother’s table, especially on Thanksgiving. And saying that my mother would not miss us was like saying we weren’t as loved or valued as the others.

For many years Chuck and I enjoyed two extended family Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas celebrations, in an effort to hold on to our own childhood traditions. Our family of six added to the chaos and laughter of my big family yet we looked forward to closing out the day with the more quiet, peaceful meal with Chuck’s family. The year we just couldn’t face eating two big turkey dinners in one day, confronted us with hard decisions.

Years later I thought about that conversation with my friend. One of our children was missing, never to experience Thanksgiving or Christmas with us on this earth again. Would we miss him less because we had three other children? Of course not. For the first time in almost twenty-five years of marriage, we spent Thanksgiving at home. A tomb-like silence seeped into every corner. If only we could go back in time, to the family celebrations we assumed would always be part of our lives.


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For so many years after the death of our son, tears accompanied every effort I made to “save Thanksgiving and Christmas” for our family. I wanted so much to hang on to the past, to recreate the joyful celebration of those growing up years. Some of my empty nester moms and newly single moms struggle with these same challenges: wanting so much to go back to the anticipation and joy those childhood years and struggling to give herself permission to enjoy a new season of life as her children reach adulthood.

In time, God created new traditions, new memories, for our “new normal.” This Thanksgiving we look forward to enjoying the hospitality of Dan and Laura. We’ll stop by Heidi and Greg’s to get our Thanksgiving hugs because though we will be in a houseful of loved ones, one family will be missing as our daughter hosts her husband’s family. We will make choices to embrace the joy of the day, but don’t be fooled, while every chair at the table is filled, there are empty chairs in our hearts.

Chuck and I talk about our first Christmas without Mark and some of the practical things we did to just get through that season. If you’re fresh in your grief, perhaps our half hour broadcast Preparing for Christmas in the Darkness of Grief will encourage you to view Christmas as an opportunity to lean into the pain and discover that Christmas is for those who grieve. Because Jesus came for the broken hearted.

Grief is hard work. If your heart is broken today, I pray you will lean into the pain, crawl up into the lap of our God, and pour out your heart. If you are in a pathway of joy, choose to touch the life of another with the help and hope that only Jesus gives.

Sharon W. Betters, wife of Dr. Chuck F. Betters, mother of 4, grandmother of 14, Executive Director of MARKINC Ministries. Visit Sharon's Blog, for more "grief relief" and “treasures of encouragement” designed to help turn your heart toward Jesus as you face Christmas with a broken heart.

A grieving mother asked people to stop sending happy Christmas cards. Hear her story here.


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