Not A Holly, Jolly Christmas

A snow hug…photo courtesy of

The 2018 holidays are officially behind us, and there are those among us heaving a huge sigh of relief.

Not everyone has a holly, jolly Christmas.

I helped a friend yesterday mostly just by listening. Her extended family and friends had been giving her a hard time because she hadn’t been upbeat enough for them over the holidays.

Three years into having lost her husband of 39 years, she has tried explaining to them the double-whammy she faces. Her husband died in mid-November 2015 so that means there are two sets of family holiday traditions that no longer exist for her.

Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are forever changed.

When a person of deep significance in your life dies, the holidays can be devastating. So many memories are tied to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Yes, that year of “firsts” is the worst, AND some people are never able to fully recover to celebrate again.

That does not make them bad people or somehow wrong.

There are individuals (whom I choose to believe are well-intentioned) who want to impose a “could you just get over it and move on” directive on others.

If there is any wisdom I have gained in this life it’s this: Grief and the process of recovering from it is a highly personal state. There is no timeline for when we “should” or “need to” adjust to life without someone we love.

And again, the memory-laden time of the holidays can be overwhelming. Some of us may want to immerse ourselves back into life, being surrounded by people. And some of us don’t. We just want to go away on a trip or be left alone.

There is no wrong answer.

No one has the prerogative to tell others how to live their lives. It’s enough to show up for them, listen empathically, and love them. We include them in events but we don’t guilt-trip them into attending if they say no thanks.

And please don’t look pained when folks say the name of the person who has died. Join them in saying the name! When we dance around their loss by talking about anything else, well, that’s less than helpful.

My friend’s face truly lit up when I brought up my own favorite memory of her husband. “I remember the time James was trying to make homemade spaghetti sauce and he…”

Remembering the dead is not maudlin or living in the past. It’s supporting people who are really saying, “I still love and miss this person and I don’t want him to be forgotten.” Or “I need you to remember her like I do.”

Forget the gift wrap and the bows next year. Give the gift of remembering someone no longer on this earth to the person who is missing them.

5 thoughts on “Not A Holly, Jolly Christmas

  1. Bill Thatcher says:

    As you and I well know, grief never goes away, it may soften over the years, but there is no timetable!! The holidays are incredibly hard for me, and I still am unable to get into the spirit of decorating the house. The front door wreath is still in the plastic bag in the bedroom?? In retrospect, I know that much of what I did at Christmas, walking the fields for a tree, etc., I did for Mom and Dad’s enjoyment, since they were beyond the physical challenges. There is a wonderful quip, from a book I have, and it tells us: “Let go of your rules for others, allow those who live with you, who love you, who misunderstand you, to be as they are. Give them their freedom and it will free you from any need to manage their lives.” Others who want us to “get over our grief” have probably never yet experienced a devastating loss of a loved one, but birthdays guarantee that we will know loss!!

  2. judy jones says:

    Very well said Norma! Thank you for your unique way of touching our hearts.
    I may be repeating myself with this quote:
    “A Mother instinctively protects her child—
    and a grieving Mother instinctively protects her child’s memory”
    I am humbled, honored and so deeply touch when someone remembers my son, Russell.
    Thanks again for Remembering our children at Church <3
    You are an AMAZING friend!!!!!!!!!

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