Christmastime After the Loss of a Loved One: Creating Warmth and New Traditions

My grandparents were the best people in the world. It sounds like something anyone would say, but they truly were the most kind, loving, and hardworking people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and watching them pass within a week of one another was unbelievably tough.

I’ve learned to cherish and smile at their memory, but losing them also taught me how the smallest reminders reopen the biggest wounds. The holidays, with their focus on family and togetherness, can feel like the most emotionally draining time of year after the loss of a loved one.

Changing Traditions

Like many people, my family’s biggest annual tradition was Christmas. It was held at my grandma’s house, and there were always a ton of us there to celebrate.

The year my grandparents passed, the tradition changed: One year we were all in the same old house; the next, most of the core holiday group I’d seen every year stayed home with their immediate families. This “new tradition” never changed.

Of course, I would never say things are “worse” today, because they absolutely aren’t. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful wife and two great children, all of whom I love and cherish as much as I did my Nana and Pap. Thanks to them, the Christmas season has become something to look forward to again.

But I’d also be lying if I said the holidays didn’t come with struggles. I suspect many of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one would give any possession to have one more season like the ones in our memories.

Coping Now and Later

In my experience, the best way to deal with holiday grief is telling yourself that being sad is OK, just like it is at any other time of year, and reminding yourself to be thankful for what you do have.

The approach may sound simple, but it works: Instead of lamenting the past, I remember that life shifts and changes. I don’t look at the memories that come after hearing a certain sound or smelling a certain scent as downers, but precious reminders of wonderful times and people. And wherever the holidays take us, I know my wife and I are creating new traditions and equally warm memories for our children and ourselves.

The world can be cruel, both in the people and things it takes and the ways it reminds us of those losses. But there are also points of warmth, even within the hardest times. By remembering and cherishing experiences that made us smile, we don’t just make things easier on ourselves today: We set ourselves up for a happier future, too.

I know that’s how my Nana and Pap would want me to celebrate their memory, on the holidays and beyond.

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