Candid Conversations: When Grief Enters the Holiday Season

Date Posted: 11/12/2015

With many holidays and celebrations ramping up in every direction, this may seem a curious time to discuss the topic of grief. However, Rev. Kay Towns, who serves at the world-renowned Menninger Clinic in Houston, knows that grief is an ever-present issue that doesn’t take a holiday.  She encourages us to invite grief into our presence, even encouraging us to allow grief a place at our table this holiday season.  For some, Kay reminds, this upcoming season will be a painful first Christmas without a loved one, or a lonely Thanksgiving following a divorce, or involve grieving a lost job amidst the pressure of gift-giving. “Compared to the grief experienced throughout the year, the losses and hurts during holidays can become especially magnified,” she shares.

 Ordained into the order of deacon a few years ago, Kay recalls how her initial call into ordained ministry came while she was serving as a Stephen Minister in a local congregation.   She then went on to receive her Master of Theological Studies from Southern Methodist University and continued her education by recently earning a Master in Counseling degree at Houston Graduate School of Theology.  She is currently a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern, completing the state-required 3,000 hours of internship work, much of which is underway at Menninger.

 “All Christians are called into ministry, each with different gifts,” Kay commented, referencing Ephesians 4:11-13.  She adds “I feel God has placed me here, in the servant ministry of the deacon with special focus on counseling to help address mental health issues, and to be a bridge uniting the community and the church working alongside my brothers and sisters in transformational ministry.”  In addition to providing group and individual counseling at Menninger, Kay also leads traditional and interfaith worship and assists with special worship services at Menninger, including services for grieving families suffering pregnancy loss.  

“People from different walks of life and different parts of the world come to Menninger in their woundedness, which often includes a wounded spirit.  It is important that we address matters of faith and meet our hurting brothers and sisters where they are, supporting their spiritual development in ways that offer hope and promote healing,” Kay remarks.  “As I enter the counseling room I bring with me the light of Christ.  This light, for those steeped in darkness, illuminates the dark places and brings healing and hope…and life.”  

 As the holidays approach, Kay offers helpful insight to share with other clergy and laity who will have the opportunity to extend comfort to those suffering this season – or at any time of the year.

Below is the blog on grief in its entirety written by Rev. Kay Towns:

Good Grief: Making a Place at the Table for Grief This Holiday Season

United Methodist Church Deacon – Blog at
As we lean into this fall season with its many holidays and celebrations just around the corner, this may seem a curious time to discuss the topic of grief. However, grief is an ever-present issue that doesn’t take holidays off. We can experience grief throughout the year, but those losses and hurts can become especially magnified during holidays. For some of us, in this upcoming season we will be confronted with the painful first Christmas without a loved one, spending Thanksgiving alone after a divorce, or wondering how we’ll manage gift-giving after being laid off. Grief finds its way into every community, every family, every life. Perhaps this season we can give ourselves a gift; the gift of allowing grief a place at our table. How can we begin? The is answer is learning to grieve “good.” “Good” grief can be viewed as a process of grieving God’s way—with God as our guide and comforter. We can move away from fearing or avoiding grief and towards a realistic and healthy understanding that grief is a primary and necessary presence. Grief is a gift from God that allows us to feel and mourn our loss, and move through the dark valley of loss and pain towards a place of healing.

How to grieve “good”
Good grief incorporates the fullness of who we are—including our most broken parts—and reminds us we are spiritual beings who need God. Scripture tells us how important the process of grieving is and says we are set aside time for our grieving (Ecclesiastes 3:4). In Bill Hybels’ sermon “A Better Kind of Grieving” Hybels expounds on our need to follow God rather than society’s approach to grieving, stating “Society’s approach says, step one: bury your feelings. God’s approach says exactly the opposite; God says, ‘Feel your feelings and express them. Don’t stuff, bury, deny, discount, or put on a false image of bravery.’” Hybels reminds us that Jesus showed his feelings openly, and even wept publicly. What a beautiful model of honest emotional release. Good grief!

To facilitate our healthy grieving we can also turn to models, such as Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. One model I especially find helpful for those grieving the loss of a loved one is by J. William Worden. In his book, Grief Counseling and

Grief Therapy, Worden suggests four tasks of grieving:

Worden’s Tasks of Grieving
Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss.
Task 2: Process your grief and pain.
Task 3: Adjust to the world without your loved one in it.
Task 4: Find a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life.
According to Worden, these tasks must be accomplished during the process of mourning, but do not necessarily need to be addressed in any certain order. Further, Worden suggests some of these tasks may need to be revisited during one’s lifetime.

Grief as a price of love
As an ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church called into the ministry of counseling, I often serve persons whom are grieving. For many, our conversations are about painful losses due to death, divorce, or estrangement. One of the hardest prices we pay when we love is grief. Someone recently shared this quote with me which speaks to this truth: “Grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love” (author unknown). Yes, grief includes a loss, but as we go through the process of grieving there is a profound gain—God heals us.

This holiday season what if, instead of ignoring grief, we meet it and invite it into our presence? What would happen if we give ourselves and others permission to grieve and engage in those difficult but essential conversations? How could our grief journeys be helped if, for example, we find a way to make a healthy enduring connection to a lost loved one or allow ourselves permission to fully accept the reality of a divorce? If we can look upon grief as good and recognize it as a gift from God, then this holiday season may well be an opportunity for healing, as well as a time to more fully embrace God–the Shepherd who leads us through all dark valleys.