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The First Christmas After the Loss of a Loved One

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I am 30, and my parents are both dead.

Let that sink in for a second. I am not looking for pity or sympathy. It is merely a fact about me.

I was not born an orphan. My parents did not die together in some tragic freak accident in my youth. My dad passed away from when I was a teenager, and my mom passed away last year the day after Christmas; well, really she went into cardiac arrest walking out of the house to go to back to the hospital on December 26 and ultimately died on December 27 after we made the difficult decision to take her off life support and follow the wishes we knew she had. For whatever reason though, December 26 means more to me because it’s the last time we spoke.

Obviously it sucks. Anyone could read that sentence and know how much it sucks.  To me, the hardest part about it all is knowing that never again will I have someone in my corner who will drop everything for me and love me unconditionally and always have my back. It is a harsh reality which I am coming to terms with, but it is also so lonely — a lonely that being surrounded by a room full of people who love you doesn’t seem to fix.

This Christmas I shopped for my parents at a roadside stand to purchase a grave blanket with my 4-year-old son. My son, with so many questions about death, who wanted to buy his grandparents mini Santa lawn ornaments because he knew “Grandma will love them.”

This is a weird Christmas for me, as I am sure it is for others in the same position. I am trying to put on a brave face for my children and force the holiday season. The tree is decorated, and I am torn as to whether or not I hang the “Grandma’s boys’” ornaments on the tree, or if I throw them out, or if I bring them to the cemetery. There are 10 dozen freshly baked cookies sitting in Tupperware containers, when anyone who knows me knows I do not bake. I now feel obligated to bake them because if I don’t bake them, who will? Our weekends are booked with all kinds of community events celebrating the season, but it still doesn’t feel like Christmas.

I am reliving my mom’s last month in my head and her strong desire to get released from the hospital so she could spend what she assumed would be her last Christmas in her house, surrounded by the joy of her grandchildren. Simultaneously, my children are whispering to each other that Grandma was here last Christmas but she is in heaven now. They are asking if we are going to be here when they turn 20, or 30, or 40, and with all my heart I want to tell them of course, but instead I chose to be honest with them and tell them, “I hope so.”

The point to all of this is that Christmas is hard when you have lost loved ones, especially when you are mitigating the holidays without your parents, and it’s up to the people around us to pull us from the funk and make sure we feel supported and get what we need. Appreciate the people in your life because you won’t know this reality until it happens to you. If you know someone missing their parents (or a loved one) this Christmas, here are my suggestions to you.

1. Send them a holiday card. I can’t tell you how excited I am that my friends and extended family are sending us cards. It makes me feel independent that the sentiment wasn’t just meant for my mom.

2. See if they want to bake with you. Often traditions done with a loved one feel lonely when you are doing them yourself.

3. Talk to them. Check in, remind them they are loved and you know how hard this time of year is.

4. Ask them what they need. Everyone grieves differently, and everyone will not need or want the same support, but knowing they are supported will mean so much more than you realize.

5. Invite them places. It is the lull of the day when you have time to think that everything catches up to you. If there is no lull, you have less time to focus on the sadness and more time to live in the moment.

“Where Are you Christmas” by Faith Hill came on the radio yesterday while I delivered my parents their grave blanket, and of course I ugly cried, but the sentiment is true:

Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter / You used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
My world is changing / I’m rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too…?
If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time.

So if you are in the same boat as I am, keep pushing, and hopefully we can find the holiday spirit together because for the sake of future happy Christmases for our children, we really don’t have a choice.

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Getty image by Kerkez

Originally published: January 5, 2018
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