Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Musings: Grieving through the holidays

Happy Sunday.

Today's topic isn't an easy one. Grieving is never easy no matter the time, but around the holidays it tends to feel heavier. My paternal grandmother passed away on Christmas Day when I was nine and I still remember the details of that morning. Family members have lost and buried loved ones throughout December and all I could do was stand beside them and give the love and support of someone who loved and cared about them. Ten...Eleven?...years ago was the last Christmas with my dad. He went into ICU on the 29th and died that March.

And, yet, my daughter was due Christmas Day 14 years ago...she waited.

Grieving during the holidays, at least for me, is a double-edged sword. There's the pain of someone being or the first, second, any number of times since they passed...and the memories of their laughter and joy throughout the holidays. Sharing of silly stories and keeping traditions they started. My dad always cooked my breakfast on Christmas morning, we've continued that with his granddaughter (Pa eggs).

We each grieve in our own manner and for our own timing. And during that time we can feel more alone than ever in our lives. We're here to share and let you're not alone.

To those who have left us...we love you and you are missed, but never far from thought.

Grieving through the holidays...If this had been asked last year, I don’t even know what I’d have answered. But a lot changes in one year’s time, huh? Last Christmas my phone was rang off the hook with updates on the tests my Aunt was going through (cancer, we learned her diagnosis during Thanksgiving). They gave her six months on the 5th of December, 2014. This year…she is gone.

Coming from a close-knit, female dominate family the holidays are always when we talked to each other the most. Swapping recipes and trying new ones or making sure we copied the ones from the previous generation correctly (damn ink pens and flour! They mess everything up, lol). When you can’t remember something, or aren’t sure about substituting one thing for another, they (my mother and her sisters) were the go-to call people. Now, that number has been clipped.

Honestly, I didn’t want to bother with the holidays this year. Just wanted to pretend they didn’t exist. But as with everything in life, life goes on even without our loved ones being here with us (you). My Aunt lived almost 8 months (just days short) from her diagnosis and the winter holidays were always her favorite time of the year. She loved the gathering of family and decorating, the baking and cooking, the lights and snow. I am celebrating her life this season, because life goes on.

Special celebrations, public displays, bright lights and tinsel decorations, plus all the commercial urging from retailers are commonplace for festival holidays all over the world. If the holiday coincides with the loss of a special attachment and the repeated anniversaries that recall it year after year, that time of year can be a difficult period for some people.

I remember a sense of desolation when my father died between Christmas and New Year and the gifts we’d all got him sat in a poignant pile in the corner of the living room, unopened, since he’d not been well enough to receive them. Some years after that we had a family Christmas knowing it was my mother’s last one and the poignancy was giving gifts we all knew (including her) that she’d not be having much use for. She died on twelfth night.

Grief is a very private thing, even for members of the same family. It can be particularly hard when it’s been a “death out of time”, of a friend or family member who’s not lived to old age, perhaps through serious illness or sudden trauma. Those grieving any loss may decide to “do something different this year” rather than keep the old pattern and all the memories of the person who’s missing. Over the years, the attitudes to keeping holiday festivals may alter and old traditions may be reclaimed as a person adjusts to their new circumstances. But perhaps it doesn’t have to be a holiday - any day that a grieving person sees the world around going on as “normal” when they’re experiencing all the hidden pangs of grief inside can be difficult to bear.

Christmas is, I think, the worst time of year to lose anyone.  I lost my mum on 3rd December 1995, and have just passed the 20 years without her milestone.  The pain of that first Christmas is something I will never forget, nor the realisation that, despite being the age I was, I was an orphan. Wrapping presents that she had bought for people, because I knew it was what she would have wanted, was so hard and many tears were shed.  The following years have passed, the pain became easier to bear, but there is still that moment, the one that catches you out, when the tears appear. But I wouldn't have it any other way, I need to remember, to miss those no longer here.  Because if I didn't, what was the point of their existence...  

This year for the first time, my family will celebrate Christmas without my dad. Sadly, he passed away a few months ago and our emotions are still raw. So, I'm not sure how we'll all grieve this Christmas but I anticipate sharing memories of Dad from Christmases past. However, we will definitely try to ensure that Mum has the best time she can possibly have and we'll toast Dad and be grateful for all the time he was with us.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at


Susan Royal said...

My husband passed away in October...a month filled with birthdays and anniversaries in our family. A shock to us, even with his many health concerns over the past five years. Each of us felt sure he'd rally like he had so many times before. But it wasn't meant to be.

Even so, Thanksgiving wasn't a difficult as I worried it might be. There were difficult moments when he wasn't there to do something he always did. There were emotions. There were tears. But we got through it together. We all felt his quiet presence.

It was as though he was with us just like always. He was there in the words my son used when he asked the Blessing. I'm sure I heard his laughter once or twice. And when we made a toast "to Dad" I know he was smiling.

I don't expect things with get easier any time soon, but with the help of our children, I'll move forward. And I'm going to do my best to share special memories of him with our grandchildren.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Losing loved ones is not easy anytime, but the holidays bring back so many memories of how life once was. Even though my mother passed away two days before Christmas years ago, her memory is always with me, and I cook pecan pies using her recipe, a pleasant reminder of her. Each Christmas I treasure the ones with my husband (who's been gone for 3 years), my son and my granddaughter and my father. They still live in my heart. God bless you all.