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Approaching the Holidays

By Dr. Laurel Hilliker | Photo by Getty Images/E+/MesquitaFMS | December 2021

Approaching the Holidays

Can Joy Be Present With Sorrow?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13)

Advent is upon us. It is a time of waiting, anticipating, remembering and hoping. These reflections can be painful when we have lost someone close and are consumed with sorrow. Our churches prepare with joyful anticipation and yet, for some, sadness is very present. Scripture comforts us as we ask, How do we turn our ‘mourning into dancing’? (Ps 30:11-12)

Cultivate gratefulness.

Bring the positive into focus. When my brother died of COVID-19, we were unable to be with him in his hospital intensive care unit or with his family who were at home and in quarantine. Instead, we remained grateful that his wife was allowed a visit and his priest could be present to pray and anoint him. We thanked God his parents had gone before him, as his sudden death would have been devastating for them. Look closely to see God’s hand.

Start a new tradition (or change one).

Many bereaved families who are anticipating – and sometimes dreading – holiday times have noted the challenge of most family traditions. One bereaved mother wrapped gifts for her son as she always had done and then enjoyed them around the tree until two days prior to Christmas when she took them to charity. Holding on and letting go are part of a healthy grief process.

Provide mutual help.

Find solace in Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Then, try to help another in a similar situation. (2 Cor1:3-4) Many years ago, and just a few months after we lost a child by miscarriage, our parish priest asked me to visit another mother who lost her newborn son. Although I was hesitant, Father Nick persisted and remained hopeful we would bring comfort to each other and we did. Neither one of us wanted empty arms that Christmas, but God showed us that we were not alone in our suffering.

Hold onto hope.

Eternal life with God gives us hope, therefore, let us not grieve those we lose without the hope God intends. “We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, to make sure that you do not grieve for them as others do, who have no hope.” (1 Thes 4:13)

For those of us entering into Advent with heavy hearts, may we practice gratefulness, reach out to others who may be experiencing loss and hold onto God’s word with the hope of eternal life.


Dr. Laurel Hilliker is a sociologist and the founder of Bearing Loss, Grief Education and Consulting, LLC. She teaches for the University of Michigan-Flint in the Department of Public Health and Health Sciences