Losing a loved one near the holidays is tough.
Losing a loved one on a holiday is tough.
Spending your first holiday without a cherished loved one is tough.
I would know.
Mom passed in February of 2017.
Grandpa, her stepdad, on Christmas Day in 2018.
Grandma, her mother and his wife of over 50 years, this past November.
All three were vital pieces of my support system, anchors that kept me grounded. They cheered me on in my wins and picked me up when I fell down. I would give anything to have all three of them back here on Earth with us, getting ready for the holidays.
And while the sadness can feel daunting at times, I also feel so overwhelmed with love for all the memories we shared together.
I think back fondly to memories of helping grandma and grandpa put up their Christmas tree in their living room, adorning it with ornaments from family members far and wide. I can see mom in the kitchen making cookies and Christmas dinner staples, and knitting on the couch in the living room, making homemade presents for every member of our family.
Loss is complicated. Grief is tricky. Navigating these feelings of intertwined happiness and sadness is confusing. For me, I like to write, and I like to remember.
Reflect on traditions
Christmas doesn’t look quite the same anymore. Our big family gatherings have shrunk in size, this holiday season especially due to the global pandemic.
But in this season of change, new traditions are forming.
Now, I’m experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my littlest niece and nephew, 5 years and 4 years old. We sing Christmas carols, decorate gingerbread houses, read stories about Rudolph and Frosty, and debate if Santa is actually real (I won this year, he is very real.) Spending Christmas morning with them is a treat like no other.
And while much has changed, some things have stayed the same. Mom’s recipe for sweet potatoes (known as orange potatoes in our house) with marshmallows on top and grandma’s hand-written recipe for stuffing are pulled out for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Making these dishes brings me closer to both of them.
It feels like a piece of them is enjoying the holidays at the dinner table with us still.
Continue to find joy
It may be the toughest thing to do in an unconventional holiday season like the one we’re heading into with face masks and social distancing. Over the years, I’ve learned to cherish the pockets of joy when they do appear.
Mom was a firm believer in homemade Christmas. Every year, we baked cookies to hand out to our family members and friends. She loved to knit and sew and would spend hours making personalized gifts. One year it was little hand-knitted purses. Another it was hand-decorated ornaments. Dad and I have tried our best to keep this tradition alive.
Grandpa was in hospice two Christmas Eves ago. I remember sitting with him, telling him how much I loved him, thanking him for his service to his country and to our family, and that we’ll take care of grandma in his absence.
As I was leaving his room, a woman approached me with a blanket she had crocheted herself in honor of her mother who had just passed away. She asked if I would be willing to receive it.
As I accepted her gift, I told her I had lost my mom, too. That she had crocheted every member of our family pot holders for Christmas a few years ago. That mom spent months crocheting me a blanket that now lays over my bed.
She was touched. I was, too. So we honored our mothers together.
For a moment, it felt like mom was there with me, too, making sure I had a homemade Christmas.
Sadness isn’t defeat
Sadness. It comes out of nowhere. It doesn’t send you a calendar invite. It doesn’t give you courtesy heads up that it’s on its way. It doesn’t care that the holidays are near. It comes in waves, a tsunami you can’t escape.
Many times over the years I’ve been told some iteration of the phrase, “Don’t be sad. They wouldn’t want that.” I challenge that.
Do. Feel sad. Let it wash over you.
I spent over 20 years learning from, loving on and growing with them. And now, suddenly, they’re gone. But their spirit carries on as that little voice that tells me to keep going, keep trying, keep pushing.
As the holidays grow near, I know the wave will be looming soon. Grandma and grandpa’s house won’t have a Christmas tree with twinkling lights or presents underneath. Grandma’s funny little elf won’t be sitting on the shelf in the living room. Mom’s stocking won’t be hung.
But when the wave passes, I know I will feel at peace that I remember them so vividly, that I cherish all of our holiday memories together, that I carry on our traditions by following our family recipes and making gifts from the heart, that I am helping our newest generations feel the magic of the holidays together as a family, and that I continue to love them so dearly.
If you’ve suffered loss this year – whether it be a family member, a friend, a pet, or something else you held dear – I feel for you. I’m here with you. My heart aches alongside yours. You’re not alone.
May you spend your holidays surrounded by loved ones, whether they are physically here with us, at a safe distance via Zoom or FaceTime, or through the spirit of those who have passed.
Happy Holidays. – B