How can we mentally prepare for the holiday season without a loved one and manage grief at the holidays? Managing loss at Christmas and Thanksgiving can be extremely difficult since these seasons are traditionally a time of family celebration and fun.
In today’s podcast episode we will be speaking about grief as related to the loss of a loved one, but grief can show up in many ways such as grieving marriage problems or a divorce; being without a loved one due to military deployment; or moving to a new town away from family and friends.
Our guest today is Nancy Hicks, and Nancy lost her 28-year-old son to colon cancer a few months ago. This honest conversation about managing grief at the holidays is a powerful one and includes how we can manage our thoughts through grief, when to pause celebrating in order to honor the grief we’re experiencing, and how to honor the memory of the person we’ve lost.
P.S. If you are grieving, I would be honored to pray for you. Please reach out to me and send me a direct message on Instagram: @vibrantchristianliving
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:
- [2:27] About Nancy Hicks
- [4:52] Nancy’s grief journey
- [8:59] Living faith fully through the lens of deep grief
- [17:10] How Nancy is preparing for a holiday season without a loved one
- [22:56] Boundaries during a holiday without a loved one
- [29:06] Unanswered prayers behind grief
- [36:47] Supporting someone who is walking through grief during the holiday season
- [44:17] Nancy’s encouragement as she and her family step into this first holiday season without her son
- [47:46] Ending with a prayer
[2:27] About Nancy Hicks
For the past several years, Nancy has spent her time teaching around the world, inspiring people to live fully alive, and now she is inviting them to live fully alive in the midst of great pain as she shares about her grief journey.
I really appreciate Nancy, first for her desire to be real and raw, and second for her willingness to share with a heart to help others who are also grieving. God ordained that the day we recorded this episode was a day that our family was personally walking through a grief journey with my mother-in-law.
Outside of this grief journey, Nancy is a speaker, a teacher, a podcaster, and an author who works at the intersection of head, heart, and soul to help women live fully alive in their faith. For over a decade, she has engaged millions of viewers as an on-air spokesperson for QVC. She is also the author of Meant to Live, and she has been featured on Hallmark’s Home and Family, The Jesus Calling Podcast, as well as in Publisher’s Weekly, The Christian Post, For Every Mom, and more. Through it all, she encourages women in every stage of their faith, including doubt, grief, and unbelief, to help them take their place in God’s kingdom.
[4:52] Nancy’s grief journey
Nancy’s grief journey didn’t start with the most recent tragic story. She has experienced grief in her past as well. Her father was abusive and left her family when she was young, and she went through a lot of healing with the Lord over the years. In 2013, she learned that a sexual predator had been preying on one of her sons and then her mother died a couple of months later. Two days after that, her father died. These experiences drew her into this reality of grief, but the most recent story is something she never imagined would happen in her family.
Her older son, David, was an incredible and brilliant man. He did a triple major in undergrad, he loved the Lord, and he was an international traveler. He studied at Oxford during his undergrad years, and lived in Shanghai for two-and-a-half years. He mastered Mandarin, worked for the U.S.Chamber of Commerce, and was just a very accomplished, fun, interesting “Renaissance guy”.
When David returned from Shanghai, he started graduate school at Harvard studying public policy and law. Upon graduation, his goal was to work in U.S./China relations or international trade. After his first year at Harvard, at age 26, David was diagnosed with colon cancer. This diagnosis shocked his family, as well as his doctors. COVID hit shortly after, and David continued his studies online while going through his treatments. He did chemotherapy, surgeries, and alternative medicines. Over the course of two years, the oncologist said that it wasn’t working and they were out of options. There was no plan B, and it was time for hospice.
At this point, David was 28 years old. He had stayed in school the whole time, and he had just over a year left of graduate school. On May 1st, 2021, David died.
The grief, Nancy shares, has blown her mind. “This is a whole other level of grief that I…never could have imagined would be mine,” she says.
[8:59] Living faith fully through the lens of deep grief
Nancy considers herself a high-energy, optimistic go-getter. When she wrote her book, Meant to Live, she included a quote that has become a centerpiece of her ministry: “The extent to which you enter into your pain with God is the extent to which genuine life is released in you. They’re equal in measure”
Nancy’s course, Awaken, includes a module about taking people from merely existing to living. “If we truncate, circumvent, diminish, avoid, or deny our pain, it is absolutely a certainty that genuine life will also be truncated, circumvented, and denied,” she says. Entering into the pain with God looks like a lot of different things, but entering into it moves us toward accepting that this season of grief is ours.
When it comes to managing grief, Nancy says that it’s helpful to admit a few things: First, we didn’t ask for it, we didn’t want it, but it has been given to us; and second, we can choose to either avoid or to accept the grief. It would be so much easier to be busy, and to try to live life the way we did before.
As Nancy points out, we have a lot of Christians walking around acting like they’re alive. She chooses to trust in God’s power, mercy, and grace and go there with Him. She will go where God has invited her, and by being who He is and who she knows Him to be, she trusts He will do what he does in all creation, all the time. He will take a dead thing and make it rise. God resurrects dead things.
Nancy has never been more convinced of the reality of that quote: “The extent to which you enter into your pain with God is the extent to which genuine life is released in you. They’re equal in measure.” The world does not encourage us to stop and absorb, process, and deal with pain, Nancy says. The world tells us to pick ourselves up and keep going. The sorrows of the world, however, are meant to draw us closer to God and to lead us toward that true life. It’s not an easy place to get to or fun to get there, but that may be the gift that God is trying to draw us toward.
Nancy’s son was strong, handsome, and full of life, vitality, and purpose. Watching him breathe his last breath, she shares, was “so demonic”. Death, though, is the portal to life.
We are still in a pandemic that has really put death in our faces over the last several months. While we can try to avoid it, Nancy sees it as an invitation. Our society wants us to avoid or to get over it, but also everything in us naturally avoids pain. It’s why you pull away when you touch a burner. Our bodies were built to resist and handle pain as well. It’s not, therefore, just a societal or systemic issue. It’s physiological as well.
We could talk for hours about the brain science behind that desire to protect ourselves and how we use coping mechanisms to keep ourselves from that pain. That’s why I think we need Christ in the pain, because our physiology fights against it. We need God to heal us and to be able to take our hands and walk us through it – to do the supernatural work through it.
[17:10] How Nancy is preparing for a holiday season without a loved one
Going through pain and grief is always difficult, but when we step into a season like the holidays – when there are all of these happy, joyful memories and traditions you may have with loved ones – all kinds of things get triggered. One of the things Nancy is doing is creating space for grief. She said yes to God and no to a lot of other things during this season in order to create the space.
For Nancy, creating space means she’s decided to make simple everyday choices to slow down, such as sleeping in a little bit longer. David was an incredible cook, and every time she goes into her kitchen now she sees his collection of chef knives. They did a lot of cooking together at Christmas, and she anticipates weeping while she makes one of their favorite meals.
People will ask Nancy, “are you having a bad day?” Nancy wonders if what they mean is, “are you crying? Do you feel sad? Do you still put your nose in your son’s robe every day?” Nancy feels like that’s not a bad day – that’s grieving. When she hangs David’s decorations on the Christmas tree, that will be painful. Nancy plans to enter into that pain. She is going to cry, lament, and mourn.
To avoid the pain would be to refuse to cook the meal or to hang his decorations, Nancy says. It takes bravery to do those things and to say we are keeping a person’s memory at the forefront.
[22:56] Boundaries during a holiday without a loved one
This is where the “with God” part is so important, according to Nancy. She has walked with Christ all her life and she has loved Him passionately. “God is not my means to an end,” she explains. “God is my end.” He is the gift. It can hurt when things don’t turn out the way you hoped. Despite all the prayer, despite the prophetic words over her soon, despite particular words and signs God had give her, it did not end the way she hoped.
During times of grief we need to know ourselves and what we need. Even though we may feel like we don’t want to talk to God, or pray, or even touch our Bible, God is everywhere. We can tune in with the spirit of God inside us, and that will lead us to do what feels healing and comforting through the grief. When we are in a place of mourning and sorrow, some people will feel their whole lives collapse under the intensity. In Nancy’s experience, God has brought her up for air and organic prayer has emerged without her planning to sit and pray every day. She shares how this unplanned fellowship with God throughout the day tends to shoot up unexpectedly like bulbs in the spring.
[29:06] Unanswered prayers behind grief
Many of us are stuck in grief and can’t move forward because we’re struggling to reconcile the fact that our prayers weren’t answered. We’re talking about inviting God into the grief, but we also have to work through the reality that we prayed for healing and that didn’t happen. That wasn’t part of God’s plan. Everyone is different in this journey. Feeling resentful of God can keep us from running toward God.
Nancy suggests that one of the reasons why the Church is in radical decline in North America is because people are looking for genuine life. They aren’t looking for a sloppy second. They’re not looking for something glossy. They are looking for God Himself–the divine. While we are ambassadors, we cannot be God’s PR agent. We cannot manage His image. There are many things that are really complicated in the Bible.There are lots of matters that remain unsettled. We aren’t going to settle everything, but ultimately people want to see life.
The people who were walking with Nancy and her family during their two-year journey included the senior pastor at their church and his wife, and the provost at a Christian university and his wife. They had countless other friends and church community members that supported them as well. Their supporters knew that losing David was a gigantic loss, but seeing that things didn’t go the way Nancy thought God told her it would was impactful as well. These people helped Nancy see this divine life despite her grief.
She felt that she had been told that this would not end in physical death for David. For the first couple months, she couldn’t even think about it or talk about it. When someone would try to bring it up, Nancy would say she wasn’t ready to talk about it. She was not in denial, but she was not ready to discuss it yet. One of her friends told her to put it in an imaginary box, put a lid on it, and lock it. Stick it on an imaginary shelf, and pull it down when you need to open it up and handle it, she says this friend told her. Then she could put it back in the box when she had enough for the day. That is how Nancy handled the situation with God through her grief. Little by little, she has unpacked it more, started to converse with people she trusts, and discuss their theological perspectives and their journey with God.
[36:47] Supporting someone who is walking through grief during the holiday season
Nancy encourages us to ask the person about what they are experiencing. Don’t act like it didn’t happen, but rather ask them what they need from you today. When we are around someone who is grieving, we need to be straightforward and make sure they know we are there to support them. We can ask what they need and how they are feeling – because these answers will change from day to day or minute to minute.
We don’t want to act like the person who they are grieving does not exist. Nancy doesn’t want David to be the “elephant in the room”. She would welcome people to ask if she wants to talk about David, or to talk about the holidays.
There are a lot of unknowns for Nancy going into this first holiday season without David. Do they want to go to some of the places they used to go to? Do they want to do something completely different this year? These questions need to be engaged in a very gentle way, she says. Making it bite-size, like, “What is it you need today? What would be helpful for you today? How can I serve you today?” – those confident but gentle questions can be so helpful.
Of course, Nancy anticipates some pain in celebrating the holidays in their home where David spent the last year of his life. Everything speaks of David and she can’t imagine being away from this home. However she admits that it’s still Christmas. Christ still came. That trumps everything and is everything, and Nancy has decided she will still bow the knee and worship at Christmas – no matter how heartbroken she feels.
[44:17] Nancy’s encouragement as she and her family step into this first holiday season without her son
Nancy encourages us to honor our loved ones. She is seeking to do that with her online event on November 13. We can enter into the pain like Christ entered into the dust of the earth and the dust of humanity. God is life, and He resurrects dead things, leaving the results of joy, vitality, peace, light, and truth.
By entering into the pain, we are honoring our lost loved one as well as ourselves. We are honoring God, and we are honoring everyone in our midst. We can enter into a deeper walk with Christ, surrender, and let the fruit of all of that bubble up from it.
[47:46] Ending with a prayer
[26:57] Scriptures that helped Julie to find hope during her family’s difficult season
Lord, we need You as we step into this season. We need You to minister in ways that we can’t even know about yet, and we need You to do that supernatural healing that You’re famous for. So let’s pray together and invite God into what will be ahead for us this holiday season, no matter where we are in this grief journey – if we are walking through grief or if we are knowing someone that we love who is walking through a season of grief.
So let’s pray for that right now. Heavenly Father, I thank You God, that You are the amazing creator of all things. I thank You that You give us all emotions – though the ones that we could label as good and the ones we can label as bad – but truly at the end of it, all You see in emotion is just opportunities of expression of what we’re experiencing as real humans on this real globe we live in and You as a God who cares about us sent Your son to come and experience those emotions with us. You didn’t leave us here to just deal with the terror and sadness and the loss that surrounds our world; the tragedy. You didn’t leave us alone in that. As Nancy shared in her time, You gave Your only son to come and be with us. Emmanuel, to live with us in the dust and the dirt, to be born in a woman’s womb, and to enter into pain around us and to hold our hands through it, Lord. And then You gave us the ability to conquer it through resurrection. You showed us that there is nothing that you cannot overcome.
So that is what I pray: our heart would cling to the Lord. As we look at Christmas, may we see Christmas in a way, through the lens of birth into our pain and a God who is strong enough and able to resurrect us from it and resurrect anything that we go through. Lord, I pray that we could release the difficulties and the sadness. We could be honest about it, Lord. We would not run away from it. We would have the wisdom to know when it’s too much, when we need to stop. And we would have the wisdom to know when it’s time to press in and You’re holding our hand as we press in. I pray, God, that You would give us divine discernment – for those of us who are walking on a path that has others around us who are walking through grief, and we need to know how to love them through this time. Give us specific insight as to what to do to encourage them to be a light, to be a blessing, not to be obnoxious and rude, but not to be ignorant either. Help us to know what to do, how to navigate, Lord. We trust You. We trust You in this because You have given us the situations that are before us. And as Your word says, You give us everything we need to live a godly life. So we know, and we thank You in advance, that You are going to be creating in us the ability to walk with our head held high, even with our head held high and the tears are falling. We will be strong in You because of what we are going to be, going through this. I praise You, God, that You can bring beauty from ashes – that You bring joy in the morning.
Lord, you can lift anything from sadness to excitement and beauty resurrected for Your glory. That there’s nothing too hard for You. And so I pray for every single one of my friends listening now that they would feel Your presence if they’re walking through grief or if they have someone around them walking in grief. They would just know that You are the God who is with them through this holiday season.
Lord, we give all things to You and we love You so much. It’s in Your name, Amen.
CONNECT WITH NANCY HICKS:
OTHER PODCAST EPISODES ON HOW TO NAVIGATE THE HOLIDAY SEASON:
- Ep. 39: Say Hello to a Calmer Happier Holiday Season
- Ep 40: Let’s Create Your Perfect Holiday Plan
- Ep 41: Free Resource for a Less Stressful Christmas Season
- Ep 42: Finding Christmas Joy (When Life Isn’t Joyful)
- Ep 43: Holiday Challenges + Dreaming About What Could Be
- Ep 44: When You’re Feeling Unprepared for Christmas
- Ep 45: How to Manage Stressful Holiday Situations
OTHER PODCAST EPISODES ON GRIEF:
- Ep 35: Finding Hope After Miscarriage with Abby Burgess
- Ep 79: Processing Loss + Finding Hope When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn
- Ep 119: Finding Healing From Grief by Serving Others with Ashley from Bridget’s Cradle
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