Discussion Forums

Grief: How am I going to get through the holidays? 
29 Nov 2012, 5:34 PM

“Do I accept invitations to celebrate with others or just stay home with my sadness?”

“My wife loved the holidays. It’s bittersweet to put up the decorations; I see her everywhere and love the memories, but the pain is hard to bear.”

Feelings of grief can come up at unexpected times, and holidays can be especially difficult. There are things all around you that trigger memories. It can help to acknowledge that grief will likely be a guest during the holidays. This is vital for everyone, so you can feel comfortable sharing memories and emotions.

The holiday season will be different without your loved one. Here are some tips that can help.

  • Do only as much as are able or want to do.
  • Begin new traditions.
  • Plan ahead and incorporate memories of your loved one into the plans.
  • Find ways to give to others in need.
  • Do something completely different from anything you’ve done before. 

You may like to read Grief in Times of Celebration: The Empty Spot by Glen Horst, Virtual Hospice’s Spiritual Care Advisor. In her story, The Holidays Minus Two, Kim shares the tradition she and family started to help them through the holidays after their losses. And Judy's Story: Kids, Grief and the Holidays tells how she called a travel agent and said Get me a beach, a buffet and a direct flight.”

Some people find it reassuring to participate in traditional holiday activities, while others may find it too difficult. Let’s learn from each other.

  • How do you cope with grief and the holidays? 
  • What do you find particularly tough as the holiday season approaches?
Report this post      
Reply by marstin
30 Nov 2012, 4:55 PM

Getting through the holidays. I know that because we have lost our two key family members so recently that it will be a tension filled time of sorrow. My daughters and I have vowed to keep our 'traditions' going. Christmas eve we will go out for dinner as we always did with my mom and Len, then follow this with my girls doing their rendition of 'The night before Christmas'. On our 'real' tree we will place new ornaments in memory of our loved ones. Christmas morning will be another tradition of having a big brunch followed by gift opening with my niece. The toughest part will come later when instead of going over to my mom's for a huge family dinner, we will go to my nephews. Although none of us are really feeling up to doing this I believe that our loved ones would want us to go. I know how fortunate I am to still have my daughters at home,unlike many of you, and they are what forces me to go forward and celebrate those that we have lost. I feel them with me every step of the way and know that they would not want me to sit and cry all day or hide away. I am alive for a reason....I now have to figure out why that is.
Report this post      
30 Nov 2012, 7:50 PM

Hi Marstin,

I admire you for recognizing that and already planning ahead. I would like to share some wisdom passed on to me by a palliative care and bereavement nurse at SickKids. She says,
    • Remember crying or expressing your grief openly will not ruin the holidays or special days for you or anyone else.
For your own well-being, mourn with people who make you feel comfortable and in places that make you feel safe. When you mourn, compassionate family members and friends will understand. Your mourning also gives them the opportunity to be there for you with support and comfort. Accept their help graciously. Teach them what you need.
    • Be prepared for griefbursts and don’t avoid them.
Before families or friends get together, you may want to have some time to mourn alone. When I know that I might have a griefburst at a family activity, I get out the family album and look at pictures of my loved ones before the gathering. This gives me some time to mourn in private and to vent grief emotions prior to the special time. This planned grieving opportunity doesn’t guarantee that I won’t still have a griefburst on the special day. If I do, I know that crying will not ruin the day for me or anyone else.
Report this post      
Reply by ShiningStar
13 Dec 2012, 5:31 PM

Thanks Marstin for sharing your experience and your plans with us.
I am sorry that you had two lossess in your family. This must be really hard.

I also read what Colleen wrote and I believe her words are full of wisdom.

I wanted to share with you an abstract of this poem:

Wounded Holidays 
by Alan Harris

Young, they left our homes
in a moment, long or quick,
they were gone.

Dewdrops turned into teardrops,
the shining sea too small
to hold our grief.

"Give us our children back," we pled
as we noticed their plateless places
at the table.

Regret made a river through our days,
tempering laughter,
pervading sudden silences.

Bodies they had through us, with us
bodies housing minds and souls
no longer.

The holiday season's return
makes throb now the wounds
we felt at their parting,

wounds which may heal
in time, we hope,
into strength

but not yet, in this season
of snowflakes that sting and cookies
that somehow taste of vinegar.

"If only," goes our carol.
If only they could return to us
but no.

If only
we could speak with them
but no.

If only we could love them
so intensely that they could
feel our presence right now

but yes, yes to this one,
a thousand yesses--
they can.

How can they not feel our love,
being core in core with us,
heart in heart?

We give love this season to them and
to each other as plundered parents
and wounded healers.

With love flowing, something in our lives
a magnificent, mysterious Something
guides us like a star.

Wishing you the best,
Report this post      
Reply by marstin
14 Dec 2012, 3:00 AM

Thank you so much for your poem ShiningStar. It is beautiful. I have been wondering how everyone is doing. I'm finding that even the simple things in life brings me to tears lately.
I think I have managed for the most part to push any thoughts of Len and my Mom away up until now and the reality is really setting in. Maybe this is the processing stage that I was told about by a social worker. My 20 year old is having nightmares and has taken to sleeping in my room with me. I am thankful that she at least is able to share her feelings and fears unlike her 22 year old sister who will not talk about it at all. Yesterday I enlisted the help of my brother to get a tree. It was a good day with him and no pettiness and bickering. He managed to drag the tree up our steep front stairs and put it in the stand for us.
I feel so helpless and useless at times without Len here to do all of the things that he used to do. Even down to trying to change a stupid toilet seat which left me in a rage and unable to get it done. I can't believe how dependant I had become and how difficult that it is to take on all of the responsiblilties and not want to run away. I wish I at least could have that option but I don't.
Is anyone else feeling this fear of Christmas? How are you coping with it?
Report this post      
Reply by NatR
15 Dec 2012, 1:22 AM

Hi Tracie,

how are you this evening?
i read your post and wanted to respond.  You are not alone in your grieving especially over the holiday season.  I often feel that holidays are challenging for so very many who are dealing with loss as you are.

it is so difficult also as you try to keep a stiff upper lip and a smile on your face for your children who are also in pain.

it is nice that one hear reaching out to you for comfort, and for your other child being aloof and silent - although that must be painful - maybe that's her way of getting through it right now. 

Have you told them about this forum? Is there a possibility that they would find comfort in reaching out, sharing heir feelings?
for each of us the walk is different.  I am glad your girls have you to lean on.  You are holding the family together .

i know this time of year is so hard and want to suggest that perhaps you and your daughters create a new tradition - creating something that is yours alone.  When you lose a loved one, there is always an empty place at the table that no one can fill.  Your dear husband was one of a kind, could fix the plumbing and was there to lean on.  You won't forget him.  That is the best legacy I think - to know there is an undying love - what a wonderful person he was to you and your girls.

I wish for you some peace over the holiday time - and I hope maybe you write back and tell us that somehow you came up with a plan that helped.

and tonight I send my best wishes and hope my words came out right.

Report this post      
Reply by marstin
23 Dec 2012, 6:23 AM

Tonight I flew into a fit of rage. My youngest was the recipient of my frustration. How to clean the house, do the shopping, decorate the tree and deal with the loss of my two closest people plus deal with the everyday things like debt collectors all by myself is so overwhelming. I am not proud of my angry outburst and have prided myself on how I've been keeping it together but not tonight. I feel so lost and alone. I wish I could just walk away from everything. I feel like a horrible mom and yet part of me wishes that my daughters would realize that I need help at least with cleaning and clearing this house. I nastily pointed out to my youngest, what a duster and broom were for. Len was a great dad and husband but he never backed me up on getting the girls to do housework so to them it's not their job. Do I sound like an ogre? I'm so tired. I realize how difficult this is for my girls and I try to keep my emotions in check most times. Just not tonight. Am I alone in feeling like a ticking bomb? Oh how I wish that Christmas was behind us.

Report this post      
Reply by ShiningStar
23 Dec 2012, 1:44 PM

Dear Martsin:

Sometimes frustration can lead us to act or react in ways we never thought we were capable of, but trust me “that is not you”, it’s just your emotions taking control. And sometimes it is so hard to control them again...

When I finally left my husband 6 years ago (because he was an abusive man who tried to kill me and kidnap my kids) I experienced some of the frustration you are going through. I was alone with 3 kids, not enough income, living in a new place that needed to be fixed, and I expected a lot of help from my then 10, 8, 5 years old children. Sometimes I would scream at them and be mean (I thought)..I felt so lonely...

But time has gone by and they have learned to help me, now we talk about how things were and why I was the way I was and they totally understand. I have told them so many times how sorry I am for everything they had to go through and what they have told me is how much they admire my strength, that I was there for them always, that I didn’t give up! We have an incredible bond. They help me now (sometimes with an attitude because they are teenagers...) but we love each other and we are there for each other.

I can assure you this will pass. They will understand in the future and they, the same as you, are adapting to a new normal, learning new things (like cleaning the house) and that’s it, you didn’t do it before but now you have to.

Sometime we forget that this is part of grieving. We are not only grieving the person who died but also the person we use to be when they were here.

With Christmas just around the corner you have a great opportunity to give your daughters a great gift: YOUR LOVE. You can make something for them, write them a letter. Something I have done is to have blank Christmas cards and when we are exchanging presents everyone gets a blank card and has to write in it what they are offering to the family for the next year.. Then we put them on the tree and then all year long in our rooms as a reminder of what we offered.

Do you have any ideas in mind?

How old are your daughters?

Sending you my best wishes,


Report this post      
Reply by marstin
23 Dec 2012, 4:03 PM

Thank you Shining Star for responding. I applaud you for getting out of such a horrible situation. I know how difficult it must have been. I grew up in an abusive household and my mom never left. I was never physically abused like her, I was verbally abused. As time went on and I grew up and got out, I took on the role of protector for my mom though by then it was only verbal abuse that went on. I protected her even after he passed and up until the day she too passed.

When I met Len, who was similar in ways to my dad but never ever abusive, I swore that my children would never have to live that life.They've had a good life. Len rarely ever raised his voice and doted on our girls. I used to try to convince him not to encourage them to be totally dependant on him for everything but he loved the role of being dad and caring for all of us. Throughout the years together I also lost my independance and life was good but I feared the future if something were to happen to him. Our oldest who is almost 23 is very dependant although she shows a fierce take charge appearance. She's the one that Len worried about the most when he found out he was terminal. The youngest one is nearly 21 and much like Len and generally a sweet, gentle soul and quite laid back. She was closest to her dad. The older one tried to be close to him but it was the oil and water effect. He could be quite critical at times.

I think the blowup over the housework is just a part of the frustration of this new aloneness. Having to not only deal with the loss of my partner and my mom so close together but dealing with clearing out my mom's house, our house being in such a state of disrepair, knowing that we have to clear it out and sell it soon(It's mortgaged to the hilt), debt collectors coming after me, and not being overly educated and having to try to find a job after being home for 18 years is just weighing me down so much. So many things to learn at the age of 57 and no one to lean on for support.

On the brighter side, tonight the girl's and I are going to go shopping together. (If they'll speak to me). It was our ritual every year and Len would drive us to the mall and we'd all have a great evening. Both of the girls are so much about 'tradition' so I guess that we will keep it that way for now. They've had too much change already.

The letter writing is a fantastic idea. I think that I will try to do that if I can find the time. It will be a very different Christmas this year without our two loved one's beside us but my niece will join us in our 'traditional' Christmas brunch as she has for the past 5 years.

Thanks again for your support. It means alot to me.

Report this post      
Reply by ShiningStar
24 Dec 2012, 4:54 PM

Hi Tracie!
I'll be thinking about you today.
Sending you my best wishes.
Report this post      

Our Partners
Asked and Answered
Asked and Answered

Find out what Canadians
are asking

Ask a Professional
Ask a Professional

Our team of experts answers
your questions about
life-threatening illness and loss.

Just want to talk?
Just want to talk?

Join the Discussion

Books, Links, and More
Books, Links, and More

Recommended by our team

Programs and Services
Programs and Services

Find local, regional,
and national services