The holidays can serve as a chance to celebrate and make memories with loved ones we don’t otherwise see often. And yet, when the holiday season coincides with a season of grief, they suddenly serve as a potent reminder of the loved ones with who are no longer with us. Particularly if this is the first Thanksgiving or Christmas following a significant loss, the absence looms even larger.

If you are preparing for the holiday season, while also grieving, you may be feeling anxious and wrestling with some difficult questions. “How do I engage with family and friends when I’m socially and emotionally exhausted? How do I express genuine gratitude at the Thanksgiving table? How do I experience the hope and joy of Christmas when my heart is so heavy?”

This post doesn’t promise to resolve these internal wrestles, nor does it purpose to reduce the complexity of these feelings. However, we do want to provide you with some simple ways to navigate this difficult season.

Here are 10 ways to proactively and purposefully prepare for the holidays, if you are in a season of grief.

1. JOURNAL. Set aside some time to honestly and authentically sift through your fears and expectations surrounding this holiday season. Putting pen to paper and putting specific words on your thoughts and feelings often makes them feel less daunting.

2. DON’T COMPARE. As we know, “comparison is often the thief of joy.” So, rather than comparing this year to previous years, try to view the coming holidays as a unique event — one that will most likely be different from past (and future) celebrations. Just as we’d encourage you to take things one day at a time while grieving, take things one holiday season at a time as well.

3. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY. Do your best to share what you’ve processed with those close to you. Without a doubt, they will want to be helpful — they just might not always know how. Sharing your hopes and expectations up front will serve you well, and it will serve your loved ones well as they long to be a comforting presence in a difficult time.

4. CHECK IN. If married, it can’t be overstated how important this is. Consider setting a “weekly meeting” throughout this season to process thoughts and feelings as they arise. On the actual holidays, establish times throughout the day to simply touch base and see how each of you are doing. This is especially key if you are visiting or staying with others.

5. HOLD PLANS LOOSELY. On that note, you may also want to consider telling loved ones that you are holding your commitments loosely in this season. Therefore, it is possible (and acceptable) for you to make decisions and changes to your plans at the last minute. Bottom line: You are free to do everything, but not obligated to do anything!

6. GET OUT. It can still be helpful to carve out time and space to take our minds off of things for an hour. You could post up at a coffee shop with your nose in a book, grab breakfast or lunch with a friend, choose to serve somewhere in your community one afternoon, and so on. Take a shower, put on some chapstick, grab a coat, and get out of the house.

7. REMEMBER THE CROSS. While much attention is rightfully given to celebrating the birth of Christ this time of year, in an odd way, we may actually be more comforted and connected to Jesus by reflecting upon the cross while we “share in his sufferings” in an unprecedented way (Philippians 3:10).

8. READ TRUTH. With that in mind, consider reading John 13-17 where Jesus shares his final words of counsel, comfort and candor with his closest friends prior to being crucified. You can do this in one long sitting, or perhaps even read one chapter per day for five consecutive days.

9. GRAB OUR WORKBOOK. For a more extended devotional, we recently developed a resource called A Parent’s Guide to Sorrow and Suffering that walks through wrestling with God, myths and truths, relational roadblocks, and redemptive purposes in our pain.

10. TALK TO GOD. Prayer may feel like a lifeline to you right now, or it may feel almost impossible to get the words out. God has not left you to carry this weight on your own. Christ himself endured unfathomable suffering in this world, and can be our ever-present source of comfort and hope in the midst of our hardship. He listens and He sees. He cares and He understands. He loves you and He is with you.

Again, while we can’t pretend that any of the actions above will completely alleviate the tension or resolve the restlessness you may be feeling, we do hope you’ll walk away with a few ideas that will help you walk through this holiday season.

Sincerely, Daniel & Kelly Crawford