Grieving Through “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

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My boys have always loved the holidays. When school starts each Fall, they can’t wait to decide what they dress as for Halloween. When Halloween passes, they can’t wait to participate in our family’s Thanksgiving traditions. Next, Advent and Christmas become the primary excited conversation at our home. Their expectations are high that joy will be had at every passing holiday.

When my dad passed away suddenly just two weeks before Christmas last year, the mood quickly changed. It became necessary for me to learn to juggle my grief…I had moments of keeping myself together so my boys could have moments of the joyful holidays they craved in the midst of the craziness of the pandemic, and moments where I just couldn’t hide my sadness.

I’ve worked for months on navigating the sneakiness of grief. Wanting to honor my dad’s memory by feeling the feelings I have had since he died, and not bury them. I’ve worked on talking about him when our family gathers so as to continue connecting my children to the memory of their grandfather. We’ve made it through many “Firsts” without Dad’s physical presence. 

We celebrated Christmas with some of the same traditions that Dad was a part of, only we lit a candle and soaked in the fragrance and warmth it shared with us. The moments of silent reflection around the candle and Luke 2 gave me moments to ponder the gifts my dad gave his family.

We celebrated the New Year, birthdays, and Fourth of July, and reminisced about those days in previous years. As we round out the final few “Firsts” with Dad gone and remember him on what would have been his 90th birthday, my parents 50th anniversary, and Thanksgiving, we’re keeping his memory, stories, and passions alive. 

The anticipation builds as the festivities draw near, however for my kids, it’s joyful, and for me, it’s a bit more melancholy. One new tradition I am establishing this year is to manage all of our expectations a bit. We’ll still gather, but I’ll offer myself some grace or excuse myself if I need a moment. I’ll continue to normalize getting emotional, so I can model that sadness is a part of life in hopes that my boys will learn that while sadness is a part of life, they can work through it.

My dad’s presence was missed on the special days this past year, but it’s the every day, ordinary days that his absence is most painful. Walking into my parents home on a regular Tuesday or noticing his absence on the sideline of my boys football game is when the real grief strikes. The holidays can surely be painful when that loved one is suddenly absent, but the everyday, that’s what’s hard. In those moments, I give thanks for the gift of memories and hold those in the now a bit more closely.

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