Grief at Christmas

Christmas should be a joyful time, but sometimes grief at Christmas makes our holiday celebrations difficult or impossible. Is this normal?


This is our third Christmas without Vince. My mind says it should be getting easier. But it isn't.

Three Christmases ago, Vince wasn't feeling well. We didn't know why. At first it seemed like a stomach virus. Then the dizziness started. He couldn't eat until late in the day because of the nausea. But on Christmas Eve he felt better. On Christmas Day, he felt well, but I had the stomach flu. So he took the children to family Christmas celebrations while I stayed home.

The day after Christmas, he was ill again. All the same symptoms.

By the middle of January we knew that he had a giant brain tumor. No cure. No good treatment. He likely would not be with us long.

That had been his last Christmas with us.

Christmas now feels tainted for me. It's filled with memories of my husband not feeling well. Our last Christmas together wasn't like any of the others that we celebrated, but it's the one that comes to mind the most easily.

Is this normal?

Holidays are often spent with family, so when a family member dies holidays become a reminder…

A reminder of good times and laughter.

And a reminder that there are no more new memories to be made with him or her.

I'm not an expert; I don't have a degree in counseling. But I can tell you that I often hear people talk about their deceased loved ones around Christmas. It seems to me that many people are reminded of their loved ones at Christmas, with varying levels of sadness. That seems pretty normal to me.

Does that mean we should move past the grief and pretend it doesn't resurface during the holidays? I don't think so. It's different for every person, but stuffing grief is never a good solution.


What I have learned about Grief at Christmas:

1. Don't bury your feelings.

If you suspect you may have grief at Christmas, build in some extra time for remembering your person. If your children are also grieving, it could mean planning to set aside some extra family time to remember and honor him or her. Tell stories. Reminisce about times you spent together.

At our house, we have a set of ornaments that I bought the Christmas after Vince died. We each put one on the tree and remember the years that he was with us. Simple. It just helps us recognize that he is not forgotten.

2. Give yourself some grace.

Please don't beat yourself up if you're not feeling joyful and celebratory. It's okay to feel blah about this year's celebrations. It's good to make an effort and not wallow in self-pity, but it's okay to just feel so-so this year. Maybe next year will feel better. Keep trying, but don't beat yourself up.

3. It's okay to say no to some things.

You don't have to go to every party and Christmas gathering. Maybe Christmas just needs to look different for a while. It's okay to trim down and just go to the most important Christmas events this year. The first year without Vince was the hardest. We changed lots of our Christmas traditions that year. We just needed it to feel different. The next year, we celebrated with all of our usual events. It's okay to give yourself and your family some breathing room. Your soul needs it sometimes.

4. Don't stay stuck forever.

Be mindful of your emotions, but at some point, you may need to force yourself to keep moving. Sometimes we reach the point where it's time to move back into normal, but we're reluctant to move forward without our loved one. If you get there, it really is okay to push yourself to just take the step. It doesn't mean you've forgotten your person. Find a way to remember and honor him or her while you move back into normal. These new traditions can help you get unstuck.


Eventually, Christmas will feel like Christmas again.

Eventually, you won't be filled with grief at Christmas.

Until then, let's all just try to keep moving forward bit by bit.



One thought on “Grief at Christmas

  1. I love how you say “your person”. I’m 36, and my dad died 10 years ago, and my mom died almost five years ago. Earlier this year, my father-in-law died. Grief is always hard, but especially around the holidays–any holiday, if I’m being honest. We celebrated Christmas with my husband’s family, and had fun. But no one talked about my father-in-law. And it was the same for me with my mom’s death. I just tried to ignore it during the holidays. I wish we had set aside time to remember Papa this year. All that to say, I appreciate your words.

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