Blue Christmas: Grief and the Holidays
Kaitlyn N. Williams, Outreach Director/Funeral Director
When the wind changes temperature, snow flurries begin to fall. The leaves are changing colors from a healthy green to a deep maroon or orange. Then they begin to slowly fall from the tree and make their impressions on the ground. The light summer jackets are hung in the closet and replaced with the heavier winter jackets for warmth. The weather and the surroundings are changing to darker, snowier, colder weather. Everyone is marking their calendars and making plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and News Years. The holiday decorations are beginning to appear in the living room and all around the neighborhood. The Christmas tree is eventually placed and ornaments are hung promptly, accompanied by the small peppermint candy canes. Presents covered in colorful wrapping paper with beautiful bow ties begin making their debut under the tree, one by one. The holidays are dedicated for spending time with the ones you love most; your family. As you patiently wait throughout the day, the smell of turkey or ham fills the house. The scrapbooks are pulled out from the bookshelf and everyone sits comfortably on the couch reminiscing memories.
These are the memories we remember most as children. When I was a child, I remember that the holidays were the best time of the year; not only because of the presents, but because we would drive or fly down to my grandmother’s house. Seeing my grandmother made me happier than any kid on Christmas. I remember that she would cook homemade potato soup with extra cheese. Her Christmas tree was decorated with Dale Earnhardt Jr. ornaments, cookies would be stored in her fridge, and she would give me a big hug and kiss. She would tell me stories of what the world was like when she was growing up and I listened in awe.
The years went by quickly. Everyone had their own families and had plans already scheduled. It became more and more difficult to come home for the holidays while I was in college. I always knew to call my grandmother and wish her a Merry Christmas. The joy from her voice made my spirits lift.
I recently lost my grandmother in May.
The funeral service was bearable, but seeing my family brought me comfort. I remember walking into the visitation room and thinking this wasn’t real. I held her hand and kissed her forehead and realized I was wrong. But I’m a funeral director, I should be accustomed to this, right? I began to remember the moments I was lucky to have with her. The majority of the memories were from Christmas time. How will I get that joy back? Or will I even feel that joy again?
Today is November 11th, 2019. The holidays are slowly beginning to make their way into town. The Christmas trees are making their debut at Walmart. I have feared this day for months. For some, the holidays bring up tragic events of death or the reminder that their loved one is gone. The holidays are meant for spending it with family, but how can you celebrate when your loved one is no longer with you? You may feel that the holiday traditions are no longer possible to achieve because they included your loved one. Although it may feel rough and rocky, you and your family can navigate safely through the holiday season together. After doing extensive research and soul searching, I have found some helpful tips and advice that may help you, your friends or other family members to overcome hard obstacles during the holidays.
- During the feast, leave an extra plate.
- Leaving an extra plate at the dinner table will bring the family to remember your departed loved one. It can bring comfort to some by including your loved one in your family holidays. The plate can be set with silverware and at their usual sitting place. It can also bring up memories from the dinner table of the past years that you can share as a family.
- Each year, share the stories and make it part of the celebration.
- I remember reading another blog that mentioned this. The best way the author explained it was like this, “You know when your parents would tell you the story of your birth every single year on your birthday? It would feel embarrassing and repetitious, it was meant to remind you of your importance.” Embracing specific memories and sharing them every year would place an important part in the holidays.
- Hang or make a special Christmas ornament in honor of your loved one.
- Creating a unique ornament would give a special purpose and reminder of your loved one. You could either create it on your own or make it a creative event with your family. Everyone has a different impression of their loved one. For example, my grandmother was a big NASCAR fan; the perfect ornament would be a racecar. If you dig deep and bring back the memories of how you felt with your loved one, it will bring better closure to you.
- Candle lighting ceremony
- This was another idea I thought would be a great idea to bring families together. One person would light a candle and share their favorite memory of their loved one, then they would light the next person’s candle and share their own memory, so on and so forth. Not only would this give an importance of the holidays and could potentially create a new perception of the holidays, but it would be meaningful for everyone to share their interpretation of someone everyone loved.
- Visit your loved one’s grave
- After we would spend the holidays with my grandmother, we would always ride up to the cemetery. I never knew until recently that my parents were visiting their grandparents’ graves. It became part of the visit during the holidays. Visiting your loved one’s graves or special places they had would bring the physical comfort of knowing where your loved one is, and give you and your family a tradition during the holidays.
- Stockings hung by the fireplace
- A tradition in our family, along with most families, is to hang stockings. To keep your loved one’s memory alive, an idea would be to continue to hang their stocking each year. Another idea that I read about was to write messages or memories you had with your loved one and put them in your loved one’s stockings. You could even write personal inspirational letters and place them into your family’s stockings to remind them you care.
- Invite over past relatives or familiar faces
- Losing a son or daughter could be the single most challenging life event a parent could go through. No holiday would be easy to digest without your child. If your child had a spouse, it might be a good idea to call them over the holidays or even invite them over during this time. Not only are you grieving as a parent, but your child’s spouse may be grieving as a widow. The two of you can share this dire moment of celebrating their life during the holidays instead of painfully avoiding it. Another example is to invite over their friends that you may have met previously.
- Write a special Christmas card
- Receiving a Christmas card in the mail always brings joy. Buying or making a homemade Christmas card and writing down your thoughts about your loved one will help not only you, but you can decide to share these cards during Christmas with your family. Gathering the family together to read meaningful cards about your loved one will create a special tradition for everyone.
If you are having a more challenging time with grief, please call us. We have several different resources within the community to help guide you toward professional grief counseling in the area. As always, the purpose of writing this is to help make the holidays easier for you, your friends or family who may be having a tough time during the season. Complicated grief is like a stone; there are times when it’s sharp and can cut deep, and there are times when it is smooth and bearable. A reminder during the holiday season is that you are not alone in your grief journey… We are all human and we all feel loss differently, but we will all feel it at some point in our lives.