Surviving Christmas While Grieving

Surviving Christmas, supposedly the most joyous day of the year, without our beloved 24-year-old son seemed impossible. However, I did survive and it turned out not to be as bad as I’d anticipated.

Unfortunately, the day doesn’t simply go away because you are grieving. There are so many family traditions including gatherings, meals, cards, gifts, and decorations that are expected. It is possible, and definitely recommended, to streamline the events as much as possible. But when it comes to younger children, or close family, it can’t be totally cancelled.

In the beginning, I couldn’t imagine enjoying Christmas, or even ever being joyful again! Of course time helps lessen the rawness of that early piercing pain, but what can you do to manage in the meantime?

Tips for Grieving During the Holidays

Since Christmas while grieving can be quite challenging, I would like to share some ideas that helped us.

First, we got together and discussed what could be minimized or eliminated. Since we felt being at home for the looming day was unimaginable, we rented a cabin in the nearby mountains. That eliminated decorating as well as being home without him. We also kept gift-giving to a minimum.

It had been a beloved family tradition to write love letters to each other, add them to the stockings, and enjoy reading them on Christmas Eve. In keeping that tradition, we still wrote the letters but the ones for Kevin were placed in his stocking and kept from year to year.

My annual Christmas newsletter still went out, but it was totally different that first year. I usually wrote it in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek style. Instead. I made it a lovely tribute to him and his life.

Parenting While Grieving

Of course, I included our daughter’s activities and achievements. It is very important not to forget, or minimize, your other children.
There were new traditions that we added, like decorating his grave for Christmas complete with a small Christmas tree and ornaments he would have loved. At home we memorialized our son by burning a pillar candle encased with his photo. This became a tradition that we have continued daily. I even had a psychic/medium tell me how much Kevin likes having that candle lit for him.

In the following years, we also added ornaments to our tree at home in our son’s memory. Since he spent his last few years in Hawaii for
college, Hawaiian themed ornaments have been a favorite. The old saying is true that grief shared is cut in half. We were greatly helped by a group called The Compassionate Friends (TCF).

Easing the Pain of Christmas While Grieving

This peer-led support group helps families after the loss of a child, grandchild or sibling and can be found in most cities. There are also
other groups, such as The Gathering Place, not specific to a child, associated with Hospice. We found this monthly support group to be
extremely helpful for several years. One helpful tradition they use to assist with the holidays is a candle lighting ceremony in December.
This is combined with music, readings and shared tributes of our children.

Additionally, don’t overlook signs that your loved one may be sending you from the Other Side. Recognizing signs from your loved one can truly lessen the grief. These can come in many forms; some frequently find coins (or other inanimate objects), others will hear a
significant song played in random places, or find that electronics will “malfunction” in unusual ways. Many also report simply sensing their
loved one’s presence.

Always Looking for Signs

In our case, we have received butterflies as signs, showing us that his spirit is still around us. The first sign was at his graveside service. A monarch butterfly flew under the canopy and over our heads at the same moment we released 24 balloons in his memory.

That butterfly joined with the balloons as they floated upwards toward heaven. There have been quite a few other inexplicable butterfly
“visits.” In fact, this connection lead me to raise Monarchs from caterpillars found in our yard. The second year after losing Kevin, I was surprised to find many caterpillars very late in the year. After being placed in my bug box at different times, each one continued its life
cycle as a chrysalis. On Christmas morning I awoke to find one had emerged as a glorious orange and black butterfly!

Seeing this amazing birth lightened my heavy heart. But it didn’t stop there. After we returned from church, a second one had emerged, then later in the afternoon a third one, and that same evening a fourth beautiful Monarch made his appearance! I knew in my heart that Kevin had
sent these as his Christmas gift to us! Both because they were unusually late in the year – and each one having had significantly
different gestation periods. I have received so much consolation from these and other signs. He may be gone from us physically but I still
feel his spirit around me.

Enjoying Christmas Again

I firmly believe that most of us receive signs from our loved ones who have passed on. I recommend being on the lookout for unusual
occurrences that could be signs they have sent to you. These are wondrous gifts that can go a long way to aid in your healing.

Although I’ll never stop loving or missing my son, I can honestly say that I have healed enough to enjoy life, and Christmas again. I know he would want this for us. At one point, I came to the realization that the joy of having had our amazing son in our lives for 24 years actually outweighed the pain of losing him.

Each family’s traditions are different, so how you adapt the holiday to help you through will be unique. I hope these ideas give you some thoughts for developing your own coping strategies. Trust me when I say that eventually you will not only survive Christmas, but come to truly enjoy it again!

Linda Zelik is a bereaved mother and author of From Despair to Hope: Survival Guide for Bereaved Parents (1): Zelik, Linda: 9781543968484: Books

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Linda Zelik

Linda Zelik is a retired occupational therapist who specialized in treating hand injuries. Unable to have children, she and her husband felt blessed to be able to adopt two newborns: a girl in 1984 and a boy a year and a half later. Being a family with these two beautiful children was a highlight of their lives. Tragically in 2010, Kevin their 24-year-old son, died in an accident. Linda and her husband have been consoled through witnessing many and varied signs from their son since his passing. Linda wrote a book entitled From Despair to Hope, Survival Guide for Bereaved Parents. Its purpose was to assist other bereaved parents and siblings through their painful grief journeys. Additionally, she details the many signs she has received in hopes that the readers will be open to recognizing signs from their loved ones on the other side.

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