At this time of the year, whatever festival or occasion you celebrate, most of us can recall a vignette of some kind that is part of our personal lore of the season. Some experiences we cherish and remember for a lifetime, others persist in memory, though in truth maybe they are better forgotten.


Grief often collides with the ongoing celebration of life.

The Forest

As the custom of the Christmas tree developed in the 19th century, “O Tannenbaum” was adopted as a Christmas carol. The song speaks of the ever-green quality of the fir as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness. When we reflect on the spiritual imagery represented by the Christmas tree, we’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to us, especially as we grieve, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9 NIV).


On October 3, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation, “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” At that historic time of divisive war, no one was spared from grief. Everyone lost someone or something - a loved one, property, dignity, or an old way of life.


Even if we have done the work of forgiveness, when the dying coals of pain, bad memories, and negative experiences are fanned to life by some reminder from the past, it is not always our first response to douse the flames, especially at the holidays. Our impulse is to cozy up to the fire, make some s’mores, and warm our indignation by the roaring fire of our hurt and self-justification.


When we grieve, the holidays can seem like a kind of kaleidoscopic emotional blur. Our spirit spins from the chaotic contradiction of sorrow and seasonal joy, sadness and holiday cheer, loneliness and festive gatherings.

Our Saints in Circulation

Because our experience of grief is both intimate and personal, often we memorialize our loved ones more privately than publicly. When we invite others into the sacred space of our grief, we share our story of love and loss with those in need of community and spiritual encouragement. As we open our heart to close family members, acquaintances, or even relative strangers, we put our saints in circulation.

The Other Side of Grief

Reconciling our experience of loss and sorrow with the grace of faith leads us slowly but surely to the other side of grief. There we find there the inevitable outcome of our experience of grief—joy.

Troubled Grief

There is a kind of grief deeply rooted in our personal tangle of regret, guilt, and unresolved emotions that can only be described as troubled. Troubled grief feels unshakeable, as though an impenetrable semi-gloom has settled over our life. Troubled grief is a malaise of mind and spirit that for a while can dictate our every mood and daily disposition.

Scrappy Grief

Many struggle with the kind of grief that is love turned inside out. Scrappy grief feeds on the fragmented, disconnected, emotional odds and ends of incomplete relationships and unfinished love. Sometimes we feel this way when our affections have been misused or extinguished by duty, responsibility, overbearing demands, or disappointed expectations.

Speed Grieving

Grief forces us to sort through the emotions that overwhelm us after the death of one we love while at the same time we work to reconcile ourselves to permanent loss. There is nothing speedy about this daunting challenge. But if we take the time—or make the time—to experience our grief, to wrestle it down and understand it, we get through grief even as we go through grief. This is the reward of our labors for doing the work of grief.

This Side of Grief

Grief has the power to create divides in our life, occasionally even deep chasms. Sometimes we feel that it’s “us” and “them”—those who understand our grief, and those who will never know what grief feels like until they themselves have a personal experience of loss and sorrow. Grief is an equal-opportunity experience—at some time we will all know the pain and sadness of grief when one we love dies.
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