How do those with loss, celebrate Christmas?

on December 17 | in Friends & Family, Holidays, Uncategorized | by | with 32 Comments

Dealing with loss during Christmas... how do you do it? By FOLK Magazine's blog

A blanket of sorrow has spread across our nation this Christmas season. So many of us are left with many questions to be answered — how do we celebrate Christmas this year, how could these events have happened, and how do we prevent anything like this from happening again?

I think all of us will hold on to these questions for some time as we continue to mourn the loss of so many innocent lives. Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. The season is supposed to be perfect, jolly, bright, warm, and well — the best time of the year. This year, how do we celebrate when we are all too aware that this season has turned into anything but warm and bright? Children are supposed to be the center of the season, however this year many won’t be here. How do we celebrate the season, how do we mourn, how do we go on?

I personally don’t have the answers. The truth is, the Christmas issue of FOLK is always the hardest issue for me to produce. I am from a small family. The  family that always made the season so special for me has passed away. My grandmother died three years ago today. My aunt who always decorated with me each year died nearly ten years ago, and my grandfather who always cooked Christmas dinner died in 2008. Since their deaths, I have found it hard to get into the season. I hardly decorate and I avoid Christmas carols at all costs. I however say this as I am running late to a children’s Christmas play, hoping it will get me into the season. I know I am certainly not alone in this, especially this year.

Since I don’t have the answers, nor does my staff, we ask you. How do we as a nation celebrate Christmas this year? How do you celebrate Christmas in years that aren’t so bright?

I suppose my only solution is to come together as one. Hand in hand, celebrating everything we have, and remembering everything we have lost. But I’d sure love to hear your thoughts.

How do you do it? How will you do it?

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32 Responses to How do those with loss, celebrate Christmas?

  1. All of us who have led a full life, have had sadness touch our lives. We keep things simple in our celebration and consider it a time to count our blessings just as we did at Thanksgiving. I appreciate your heartfelt post. I’m new to your website and I am enjoying all of the wonderful articles from your contributors. Blogs and websites like yours keep us close. We develop a bond and a place to celebrate…and mourn. Happy holidays to you from our little family here in Florida.

  2. jessica says:

    I too lost a loved one just before Christmas. My mother, in fact. It has been thirteen years and I still find myself reaching for the phone to give her a call. She loved Christmas. Absolutely loved it and because of her charm, love and whimsy for the holiday I celebrate in her honor. I play music, plug in lights and bake cookies all the while carrying her love and her memory with me as I do so.

    I do not know how we as a nation move forward to celebrate much of anything when a loss as enormous as this happens. I do know that in my heart I carry thoughts of loss and sorrow for all lives lost and can only hope that each loss helps us move towards a better understanding of humankind.

    I wish you and all of the warm and wonderful contributors at FOLK a holiday that brings you closer to those that you love with a little toss of joy and laughter thrown in.


  3. Faith. I lost my father this past October. Our immediate family is small, just myself, my Mother and sister. My grandparents, my only 2 uncles have also passed away. Usually at Christmas, we gather at my parents home to celebrate Christmas. When we all sit down at the dining room table for a meal, everyone has their places. We all sit in the same place for every meal there. My Father would sit at the head of the table, always. I thought, how can sit there and look at the empty chair? As I am writing these words, tears come to my eyes just thinking about it. I believe the only way I can get through this, is to believe he is in a much better place than I am and that his spirit is at my side and close to my heart always. Just because I cannot see him, does not mean he isn’t with me. Faith, that he and all the ones I love ARE with us, but in a different way than before. Happy Holidays to Everyone

    • So sorry for your loss, Ruth. The first year is always the hardest. I’ve found to switch things out a little helps so you don’t feel the emptiness as much. New traditions! Sitting buffet style on the sofa in front of a crackling fireplace may be something to consider. I don’t think I’d be fond of that empty chair either.

  4. I sure wish I had the answers. I lost both parents that meant everything to me. They were the official glue that bonded the family together. We’ve thus started some new traditions, hoping to grasp onto a new normal.

    But it isn’t easy. Not by a long shot. I look forward to hearing a few solutions.

  5. Lois B says:

    I lost my oldest son five years ago in a tragic robbery/murder. Even though he was 37 years old he was my baby boy and I speak of him every chance I get. I speak of his tragic murder, I speak of his sweet and gentle ways, I speak of his love of music and the Tampa Bay Bucs, I speak of his love for his brother, his dad and me….I try to speak of him daily, even if it is only in my mind! Merry Christmas to all and peace on this earth.

  6. Deb Sacksteder says:

    Thank you for your tender post. Your openness and honesty are refreshing. I run a small gift shop and have had a very difficult time tending to my social media postings, and have felt that the “fa la la” from others is disconcerting and troubling.
    I think we must celebrate by really revisiting the Christian roots of the season. Everything about the story is one of love and sacrifice. That gift is for each of us and that potential has been wired into each of us from the beginning of time, and will continue long after our own chapters have ended. That thread, that continuity is a comfort, a marvel… So I think we have to celebrate by remembering and paying tribute (through reflecting, symbolizing, story-telling, etc.) to the love we have known in our lives. I think we honor that love by showing love— to those we know, and to strangers. Let’s make new, intentional traditions that may make us weep, but will also make us smile in a deep, meaningful grateful way. The only way to counter death is through living. The only way to counter evil is through good. I think I’ll have to help some children in need. I’ll tell stories with my siblings about my dad and our childhood. And I’ll find some time to be still and know…

  7. Thank you for your kind words Donna. I agree on changing things up, even though that is hard as well. You think, well we have always done it this way, but as things change, I agree that is OK to change the way you have always done things, to something different. I believe that our loved ones, would want us to be happy. I was reading Lois B.’s comment about speaking to her son, and I do that as well. I talk to my Dad everyday. I even ask him how he’s doing today, and tell him that I miss him, I miss his presence. I also tell him that we are OK and that he is in our hearts every minute of everyday. The tragedy in Connecticut has saddened everyone across the nation. These things are not normal, which makes it even worse. We can only pray for the families that have lost a child, sister or mother in this horrific tragedy. I personally cannot imagine. May God Bless the families and comfort them with his grace.

  8. I lost my father about this same time 38 years ago. Our family gathered for Christmas, but it wasn’t celebrated. So, as some have suggested, new traditions at new locations were started and the pain lessened. I still get a little melancholy at this time each year, but I push through it to make the holidays good for everyone else. So many of us will be pushing through our sadness about recent events this year especially, but we need to do it for the children.

  9. Cathy p says:

    My first husband died Christmas day 2001 unexpectedly from colon cancer and heart failure. My daughter was 12 at the time, and he was the center of her universe. In years following, every holiday season finds me blue and wishing the holidays were over. I have since re married, and my husband tries really hard to make it a nice holiday for us I think both my daughter and I state ” I hate christmas” at least once every year! I can honestly say that this may be our first happier year, because she and I are seeing the holiday through HER daughters eyes (21 months old)
    The bottom line is : you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and hope things will get better.

  10. My dad died right before Christmas 21 years ago. It was sudden and completely unexpected and threw us all for a loop.
    The one thing I remember – and there isn’t much – about that time is that we were always surrounded by family and friends. They came over and just sat and told stories and laughed with us. They brought us nourishment for our bellies and our souls. Christmas wasn’t all shiny and happy, but it was full of love, and that filled some of the hole left by Dad’s passing.
    As for advice, then, I would say to surround yourself with friends and family. Also, we have made new traditions that are fun and we look forward to each year.
    Happy Holidays to all. God Bless Us Every One.

  11. Lori M says:

    My grief over the loss of my mother in August tempers my holiday spirit this year, now compounded by the heinous murders that took place in CT on Friday. In addition, I live in Colorado and a good friend lost her home in the wildfires this past summer. The tears in her eyes at a recent craft fair reminded me to count my blessings. My only consolation is to draw close to me the memories of Christmases past and my remaining loved ones and to force myself to do no more to celebrate the season than I am reasonably comfortable doing. For me, that means cuddling with my dogs, cooking for my dad and knitting or curling up with a book. In the 22 years that I cared for my mother, who had mental illness and dementia, and spent her days in a confused and paranoid state, she always looked forward to the poinsettia I took to decorae her home. If I forgot, it was the one thing she noticed and remembered to ask about. I have a small wooden chest in my home with pictures of her life on top; a few small mementoes from her life and her nursing school books inside. This year, I continued the poinsettia tradition by placing a tiny one in a tea cup on top of that chest. Merry Christmas mom. I love you and miss you so very much.

  12. kimberly says:

    Such a little word for such a large pain, isn’t it?
    I think sometimes we have such expectations and hopes and dreams that this year, it will all be *finally* perfect.
    Alas, it just won’t be.
    But, I think that we can take these hard things to spur us on to do good where we can. Taking the focus off of ourselves and doing for others maybe what can pull us through. It’s not denying the pain, but it is allowing ourselves to live on in spite of it.
    For me, having faith that this life is not all there is helps.
    There is pain and death and suffering, but I believe in eternal life. In a heaven where there is no more pain, just love and life, lifts the grief. And knowing there is One whose heart breaks and mourns with us helps.
    Thank you for sharing your heart, Ben. I do hope you enjoyed the concert. And a Merry Christmas to you.

  13. Tradition……. I feel that traditions are so very important to family… And extended family. As Adam Duritz would say “a long December” I have many many experiences and I think what helps me the most is to continue to have traditions and do something to remember those that are no longer with us….. Lighting a candle, releasing balloons, a rose on an empty chair , a favorite story or treat. My children lost both sets of grandparents and trying to fill grandparents shoes was impossible…. In fact we realized that it just couldn’t. Be done. But we. can share their memories. I was able to share m,y moms ornaments with my children and also give my children the ornaments I bought them every year.-and I hope when my children become parents they too can give their children special ornaments. Don’t be afraid to talk about the one that has passed… That’s especially important to others that have lost someone…. No matter the reason. God Bless Us Everyone!

  14. I’m so sorry to hear others are grieving. My family is either gone or too far away to share the holiday. Sometimes I think that’s almost as bad. But, it’s not. I’ve had several years to form a plan for Christmas especially. First, I brace myself. I don’t hold back the tears anymore. I let them come, I make myself listen to some favorite carols and just let the tears flow. Feeling the loss sometimes is almost as good as one of their hugs, if you can understand that. I make lists of the good memories and have something to look at and think about during that time instead of going in circles. One or two good cries usually takes care of that process. Usually.
    You just have to be ready for all this wash of emotions and take it as normal expression of loss. Luckily, I have Faith and I use it often and call upon it to help me get through these times. Most of all, I remember my loved ones Loved Christmas and I don’t want to let them down by not celebrating, but enjoying. Sometimes I think it might even be easier this year than last year, maybe next year will be better…etc.
    Whatever your belief system, it’s the time for renewal and celebration in my home. I hope you can find solace in that and tears were made for a reason. Use them.
    I lost three of my family a month before Christmas but years apart. My Dad, son and daughter.
    Hug the ones that are here, cherish the memories for the ones who aren’t and I hope you can have a happy holiday in some way.

  15. I believe that the more painful this world looks to us, the more beautiful the manger becomes. This will be my first Christmas without my brother, who we lost just a couple months ago, so I speak as someone for whom grief is still very fresh. Especially in light of the tragic events in Newtown, Christmas takes on new meaning for me this year. The more broken and sad our world, the more we need Christmas, and I mean the true meaning of Christmas: a rescuer sent from heaven in the form of a baby who will restore peace on earth. I’m so sorry for your loss. Merry Christmas to you!

  16. Bess says:

    We have had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year also. I have an attic full of Christmas decorations that have not been touched. Usually by this time, my daughters and I would have made cookies, handmade gifts, and lots of fun crafts. We did put up the tree and decorated it, but I’ve been having to force myself to play Christmas music. My husband was diagnosed with cancer just 2 months ago, he is 32. We have spent so much time away from each other this month with my husband in the hospital. I think, that we – all of us – just need to cherish each other every day. We forget, in our busy lives how precious life is. I remember thinking just days after we found out, about all the trivial things in our life that would upset me. They just don’t matter. You never think that these things can happen to you. They can happen to any one of us. But we are all here for each other. So, what I am going to do, is smile, hug my husband and our four pretty little girls, pray, be thankful, and have faith that HE is by our side each step of the way.

    • KristaR says:

      Bess, i’m so sorry. I can’t begin to imagine what you must be going through. If I could give you a hug right now I would. Take care of yourself as you take care of those around you.
      Hugs from one wife and mother to another..

  17. Lynne says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful words. I was born the week before Christmas. I was married the week before Christmas. I had a child the week before Christmas. The Reason for the Season can get lost in all the busyness. I have learned to carve out quiet time to be alone and worship the One we celebrate and give thanks for the folks who have blessed my life through the years. I can’t take away the pain others are feeling, but I can be a good neighbor. I like to think the world changes one heart at a time.

  18. Over forty years ago, my husband’s young brother died in a horrible accident, not very long before Thanksgiving…that same year, during the Christmas holidays, his father died suddenly at the age of 51. Two losses for his family at this time of year.

    Six years ago our precious grandson died shortly after his birth. He was born in mid November and lived just about 2 hours. We celebrated Christmas, even as we celebrate this year. Our family members who are no longer with us, here on earth, remain with us. Not one Christmas or other special event in our lives, goes by without them being with us as they always are, in our hearts.

    We’ve had startling health news about my husband, this Fall. This makes each Christmas even more precious.

    I’ve wept every day, since Friday morning. I grieve for those beautiful children and teachers. I know the pain of losing our sweet baby grandson and other loved ones. I cannot begin to imagine the pain the parents, siblings, grandparents and others are feeling, in CT.

  19. Debbie says:

    I believe that all of the wonderful souls that have been lost to us would urge us to celebrate, not just Christmas, but every moment of our lives. Celebrate life for those who can no longer celebrate. There is joy and gratitude to be found in each day, even when we’ve suffered devastating loss.

  20. Nanci says:

    Lets begin celebrating by holding close the ones we have here with us. Let us Love them, kiss and hug them!! Lets celebrate the lives of those we have lost and try to carry on a tradition they brought to the season, such as taking over the cooking of the dinner in the fashion your Grandfather did Ben. Honoring him in this way might help you get through it and feel connected to him. With this sad, sad tragedy that has taken place this week in our country it is hard for me to also be happy. Tears stay welled up in my eyes. Lets join together and find a way to honor thoes lost by doing something for someone else, to ease some pain or trouble they might be facing. Merry Christmas to you and Bless those in pain with some comfort and peace.

  21. Lisa Jochim says:

    For me… I have to turn to my faith. Like so many in the world I’ve had loss in my life. The loss of my mother is something I’ll never get over. She died right after Christmas almost 23 years ago from complications of the flu. It’s affected my whole adult life. There are memories from Christmas that I would never go without. Ornaments, her Santa Sleigh, her china.. so many things along with warmth, faith and family. Every little thing she touched I want near me and out when ever possible. Our last night together we had taken my daughter then 2 to see Santa at Silver Dollar City in Branson. We laughed, sang Christmas Carols, and had so much fun. I will cherish that night forever.

    But the loss of a child. Unimaginable, pain, loss, heartbreaking. It makes you wonder how you can go on. I have nothing to say but I hope the families affected feel the prayers of a nation and feel the warmth of our love.

    I am visiting many churches here in Europe. I always light a candle for my mother, the unborn babies of the world and will now light one for the precious children from this tragedy.

    This American Girl in Holland sends her love.

  22. My oldest child passed away 12 years ago when she was just a few days old. I was only 27 and I had to bury my baby which was too difficult to even comprehend. There aren’t words to explain what it feels like when the death of your child precedes your own. I made it through with the love and support of my husband. I now have three beautiful children through adoption and I’m a very lucky mother. Remembering my daughter is very important to me. Her pictures, the few we have , are up on the walls in the hallway along with my other children. We have a dinner in her honor every year around her birthday for our family and friends. Holiday are still difficult but every year we buy a Christmas ornament with her name and the year on it. I always buy a toy for her and then donate it to Toys for Tots. Having all these rituals helps. Grief is a long road. It has been 12 years for me but the smaller memory can bring me right back to those days. It is not something you get over, it becomes who you are. It does get better.

    • Tina S. says:

      My oldest child passed away 12 years ago as well. She was 15 years old. The physical pain of grief was overwhelming. I agree that you never “get over it”. You simply find a way to go on even though there are times putting one foot in front of the other seems impossible. We celebrate Amy’s life in similar ways. We display her photos, have her birthday dinner, and my mom makes me an “Amy Box” every year for Christmas filled with things Amy would have loved. I then display them in my home. She also gets a new ornament every year. It gets better but it never gets easy. These little remembrances keep her memory with us until we can be reunited in that sweet by and by.

  23. Ben, you’ve written such a thoughtful and insightful post, and posed a question that will make us all think about our personal approach to the holidays this year…

    For me, I ask myself what is of REAL and LASTING importance during the Christmas Season. Having lost many immediate family members in the past and most recently my estranged husband on Thanksgiving day just a few weeks ago, I look to my faith to provide answers in the midst of my sorrow. I can find peace in knowing that my loved ones, those beautiful souls from Connecticut, and others recently lost, are in the arms of a God who loves them – and us. He is, after all, the reason for the Christmas season.

    Helping my adult children through the healing process of losing their dad so suddenly is my top priority this year – and that means sharing memories, stories, tears and laughter as we look back at our shared life with a man we all loved very much. I sent presents to my little grandsons, but for adults, there are so many things that are more important than things that can be wrapped. My hurting family can’t gather at a table for a ‘perfect Rockwellian’ dinner due to geographic and financial limitations, but we can connect via phone, text, facebook, email, and Skype to express our love and appreciation for one another… which is of utmost importance when we’ve had such a shocking reminder that none of us are guaranteed another day, another Christmas, or another memory. Making the most of what we have now is the way we celebrate in a season of loss…

    Debi Ward Kennedy
    contributing writer . FOLK Magazine

  24. What a lovely post and poignant question! for me, it’s important to keep some quiet time for reflection and remembering. Dave, my husband, died and this is the second Christmas without him. The first Christmas, I was in shock and while the shock isn’t as great this year, the grief is still bone deep.
    I invited children to come to the farm and make cookies and decorate; I took a little girl Christmas shopping for her parents. On Christmas Eve I’ll attend church services and have communion then come home and re-read Luke 2, just as I was trained to do (by example) since a toddler.
    The most important thing, I’ll continue working on my book to help others prepare their affairs. There are so many things to do to help those left behind…ways to save money, ways to have money to pay those bills, ways to negotiate with those to whom money is owed. “Death comes to us or for us, it’s best to be prepared.”

  25. Jennifer says:

    I try to think about how happy my loved ones are. I concentrate on what it must be like to celebrate Christmas with Christ in Heaven.
    This is a poem I found a long time ago. I don’t know who the author is, but maybe it will give comfort to someone.

    Miss me-But Let me Go

    When I come to the end of the road
    And the sun has to set for me
    I want no rites in a gloom filled room
    Why cry for a soul set free?

    Miss me a little-But not too long
    And not with your head held low
    Remember the good times we shared
    Miss me-but let me go

    For this is a journey that we all must take
    And each must go alone
    It is all a part of the Master’s plan
    A step on the road to home.

    When you are lonely and sick of heart
    Go to the friends we know
    And burry your sorrows in doing good deeds.
    Miss me-But let me go.

  26. Suzanne says:

    Well here it is Christmas Day, and I’m reading all of your posts, they are so comforting to read really. It is hard to see joyous Christmas celebrations all around you. Of course you’re so happy for those who do not have loss or serious health issues squarely on your door at Christmas.
    My contribution to this blog, is that every day, everyone somewhere experiences loss, of a family member, their own health, an accident. When this occurs around Christmas time the spotlight is on, and everything that is a normal life occurence seems more amplified and more poignant because of the sentimentality of the season. So that’s what I try to remind myself of. My father died before Christmas, my father-in-law on Christmas Eve, I just attended a funeral on December 9th of a very dear friend that died of cancer after only being diagnosed late July. On Christmas Eve, I saw a family pet get killed on a highway, just last night. All these memories, and loss and only imagining loss of the families dealing with their first Christmas, I take stock, I honour those from Christmas past and sit and remember the fun times. I take the time to appreciate what I have now, even though my health is seriously challenged. Why ? because I’m still here, so I have cookies for my dog and cat and enjoy watching their joy. So if you’re sad and feeling the loss, even though it’s so difficult focus on the fond memories of your losses, enjoy the joy of others around you, and remember the years you had joy and not sadness. Loss and sadness will come to all eventually, so I try to be happy for those who do not have to yet deal with what I am feeling this Christmas and in Christmas past. I look forward to a year without loss and sadness, knowing full well it will not be our family Christmases with all the siblings and parents, because that is gone and it cannot be recaptured. I like to look at the pictures though. Try to find a tiny spark of spirit. Even if it’s one song, one sparkleying ornament hanging on a lamp light fixture, or the smell of pine in your house from one bough, one rub and pat to a pet you still have with you. One tiny treat, where you say to yourself, oh I shouldn’t have this. Then enjoy every last drop or morsel. One caress to a person still left in your household. Quiet Christmases, with a bit of light, one sparkle, and one tiny treat to share, is all that is needed to embrace the spirit of this time of year. Take of the pressure off yourself from Christmases past, but enjoy their lovely memory and share through story telling if you can find someone to listen. Blogging is a great way to share your fondest memories.
    You’re all wished your tiny spark today, if you can look for and find it !
    I hope I come back to the this site and find everyone’s fondest memories, or the fondest memory and spark of happiness even during the toughest moments of Christmas. It’s there waiting for you to discover.
    So here’s mine, even though very young, our father allowed us the tinyist bit of port in a tiny little appertif glass. I remember looking round and seeing all our little ears turn bright red ! that’s one of my fondest memories, then we’d point at each other and laugh that we all had bright red ears ! makes me laugh every time !

  27. [...] hat tree topper.  For some, the Christmas season resonates the loss of loved ones. Many of you shared your heartfelt stories with us in the comments of Ben’s post about loss last week.  We appreciate so many of you [...]

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