Finding Gratefulness During Grief

Their chair is vacant or maybe crazy Uncle Charlie has staked his claim on it, the place your loved one normally occupied at the table during holiday dinners. You thought you’d overcame the sorrow of the loss, for you’ve stopped looking for them in crowds or for their number to pop up when the phone rings, but it’s the holidays. The holiday season has a way of bringing that old familiar pain again, especially if it’s the first without them. What happens if you find your holiday season robbed of joy? 

I am familiar with a holiday season spent with loss. My sister, Tricia, passed from breast cancer between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014. That holiday season was filled with rushes to the emergency room, pressing her pain pump, a memorial service, and passing around the tissue box.

I learned a valuable lesson at the end of my sister’s life from two women who signed on to sit and care for her on weekdays. One of them was our cousin Kim who’d known the heartbreak of loss for she’d lost two of her three sons. Her first born died at the age of one, due to complications after a liver transplant, and the other stood up from a chair one afternoon and fell over from a sudden heart attack in his early twenties. How do you go on after losing two of your children?

The other woman, KK, was like a sister to Tricia and I growing up. KK was available to sit with Tricia because her husband of almost three years served her with divorce papers when she flew to Virginia alone to attend her grandmother’s funeral. She was blind-sighted and didn’t know what to do or where to go. So, she moved back to her hometown from Hawaii, and buried her own pain in order to help my sister with hers.

One day, while KK was sitting with Tricia, I thanked her for jumping in and helping out.

“Don’t mention it,” she said. “It gives my mind something else to focus on besides myself and my own problems.”

Another day, I visited during my cousin’s shift. I noticed she’d put on makeup and had a pretty dress on. When I mentioned she looked too cute to be sitting with Tricia all day, she said something powerful. 

“You know something. I haven’t felt joy in a very long time. Taking care of your sister has given me the most joy. I look forward to my day to come take care of her.”

And there it was…the balm for a grieving soul…


There are examples throughout the Bible that the giving of one’s self brings joy to a grieving soul. Take Ruth: When Ruth lost her husband, instead of returning to her people the Moabites she followed Naomi, her mother-in-law, to Bethlehem. Here, Ruth poured herself into meeting the needs of Naomi, by gleaning the farming fields. 

Other evidence can be found in the encouraging book of Philippians written by an imprisoned Paul who’d lost everything and was facing imminent death. Instead of allowing grief to overtake him, Paul gave of himself by writing encouraging letters to the churches about having joy no matter what your circumstance. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 4 and 7, English Standard Version)

Then there’s Jesus, He washed his disciple’s feet the night He knew He would be betrayed by his friend. While nailed to a cross, He cried out “Father, why have you forsaken me,” but He still gave hope and salvation to the thief hanging beside him. 

An amazing thing happens when you take the time to see outside of yourself and serve someone else during a grieving season; another “G” word becomes the result, gratefulness. You become more aware of your own blessings. 

If you are suffering a loss this holiday season, know there is a time for grieving. Taking the time to grieve over a loved one’s passing, a divorce, a lost friendship is healing. However, your grieving should never squelch the light of Jesus in your life. If it is robbing you of joy and peace, it is time to evaluate if you believe your loss is bigger than your God. 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, and 4, ESV) 

Solomon described it as seasons, just as we seamlessly flow from fall into winter with each season lasting three months, our lives should also move from one season into another. If you find yourself stuck in a season of mourning, you will miss the season of dancing. 

This holiday, when you feel the desire to memorialize your loved one’s chair, offer the place to your crazy Uncle Charlie. Instead of letting your loss rob you of your joy this season, ask God to reveal a need you could pour your time and energy into. Soon your servant’s heart will become a grateful one too. 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

LifeTammy AdamsComment