Grieving at Christmas

I wrote this a few years ago and have reposted it a couple of times. I probably won’t do so every year, but this year several friends have lost loved ones, and the first Christmas without them can be very hard. Maybe this will help. I’ve edited it a bit so the time frames are current. I also shared a bit from this and added some different thoughts in Christmas Grief, Christmas Hope for a newspaper column I was contributing to a  a couple of years ago.


December could be a rather gloomy month for my family. My mother passed away Dec. 10 nine years ago, my father Dec. 12 sixteen years ago, and my grandmother Christmas Eve a few years prior to that, leading my brother to exclaim once that he just wanted to cancel the whole month. In more recent years the husband of a good college friend passed away in December 21 on our anniversary, and our family dog died the same day.

The death of a loved any any time of year can shadow the whole Christmas season as we miss our normal interactions with that loved one, and several years later, though maybe the pangs aren’t quite as sharp, they’re still there, and it’s not abnormal to be caught off guard by a memory or a longing leading to a good crying jag.

When someone is grieving over the holidays, they may not want to participate in some of the “normal” happy pastimes. It’s not that they don’t ever laugh or enjoy gatherings. But as Sherry said yesterday, “I am enjoying the traditional holiday celebrations, and at the same time they move me to tears, sad tears for things that have been lost this year. I am singing the music, and yet I’m tired of the froth of jingling bells and pa-rumpumpum.” I remember almost wishing that we still observed periods of mourning with wearing black or some sign of “Grief in progress” — not to rain on anyone else’s good time, but just to let people know there was woundedness under the surface, and just as physical wounds need tenderness while healing, so do emotional ones. Normally I love baby and bridal showers and make it a point to attend, but for several months after my mom’s death I did not want to go to them. I rejoiced with those who rejoiced…but just did not want to rejoice in quite that way. I first heard the news of my mom’s death during our adult Sunday School Christmas party, and the next year I just did not want to attend – the grief was still too close to the surface and would probably erupt in that setting where I first heard the news. Even just three years ago when our ladies’ Christmas party was on the anniversary of my mom’s death, I was concerned that at some point during the evening I would have to find the restroom and lock myself in to release some tears (though thankfully that did not happen).

Other events can cast a pall over Christmas: illness, job loss, a family estrangement, etc. One Christmas we were all sick as dogs, and my father-in-law had just had a major health crisis and wanted us to come up from SC to ID to visit. There was just no way we could drag ourselves onto a plane until antibiotics had kicked in a few days later, but we did go, and if I remember correctly, that was the last time any of us except my husband saw him alive, so in retrospect we were glad we went, though it wasn’t the merriest of Christmases. A good friend grieved over “ruining” her family’s Christmas by being in the hospital with a severe kidney infection. Lizzie wrote about visiting her husband in prison for Christmas. Quilly commented yesterday about being homeless one Christmas. Yet both Lizzie and Quilly mentioned reasons for rejoicing in the midst of those circumstances.

If you’re grieving this Christmas, don’t feel guilty if you’re not quite into the “froth” this year (on the other hand, don’t feel guilty for enjoying it, either).  One quote I shared on a Week In Words post earlier had to do with giving yourself time to heal. There may be times to go through with the holiday festivities for family’s sake — and, truly, those times can help keep you from the doldrums. Sherry shared how making a list of reasons to celebrate Christmas helped. Look for the good things to rejoice in. Don’t let the grief turn you into  Scrooge who hates Christmas: your loved one who is gone wouldn’t want that to happen. I think they’d probably prefer you celebrate in their memory and enjoy the best parts of the season while still remembering them in it. E-mom left a valuable comment yesterday that we can treasure up the memories of good Christmases to tide us over the not so good ones, and then look forward to better things ahead. And as I said yesterday, remember that the first Christmas was not all about the froth, either, but was messy, lonely, and painful, yet out of it was born the Savior of the world and the hope of mankind. Rejoice in that hope and promise. Draw near to Him who has borne our griefs and carries our sorrows until grief and sorrow are done away forever.

6 thoughts on “Grieving at Christmas

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Barbara. Through the years my mom had alienated herself from the family (long story) so Christmases past mainly amounted to talking on the phone. So as for her being in our home for Christmas, that wasn’t missed necessarily, but the feelings of frustration that we could’ve had more through the years pressed on me this year. I’m thankful that all was healed and we were able to cherish last Christmas with her, though she was in nursing care. All is well with my soul!

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