Surviving the Holidays in the Absence of a Loved One


    The excitement and anticipation of Christmas has always made it my favorite holiday. Growing up, my brother and I would always wake up in the middle of the night and sneak downstairs to see what goodies Santa had brought us. We would ooh and ahh over all our new toys, and then go back to bed knowing we would have to act surprised for mom and dad in the morning! I loved the magical feeling of it all. The lights, the warmth of a fire and a cozy blanket, the presents, the cookies, the snow, and family. Christmas, for me, was always the most wonderful time of year.

    Last Christmas, my boys were 4 and 2. It was the first time they both really had excitement and anticipation for the holiday. We had Christmas at my parents’ house and filled our time with movies, games, and food. A typical Lynn holiday.

    Lately I’ve stopped to wonder, if I had known that would be my last “typical Lynn holiday,” would I have spent it differently? Would I have given different gifts? Taken more pictures? Done something more special?

    I say this because last Christmas was the last holiday we got to spend with my dad. He passed away suddenly just two weeks after Christmas last year. I’m sure death is never something you can be “ready” for, but we were certainly planning on many more Christmases with him. It’s sad, and it sucks. There’s just not a more eloquent way to put it.

    Many of you may be in the same place I am, whether it’s death, divorce, or distance keeping you from your “typical magical holiday.” If you are, I just want to say, “I’m sorry for your hurt!” Because even amidst the excitement and anticipation of Christmas, I know there is a lot of grief and anxiety, too.

    My friend, Summer, who lost her father four years ago, shared some Holiday Survival Tips with me that are worthy of sharing. More information, tips, printouts and videos can be found at GriefShare.

    • PREPARE – The ambush of emotions can occur at anytime and any place.
    • ACCEPT – the difficulty of your loss and this time of year. Remind yourself that it’s a season and it will pass.
    • SOCIALIZE – Don’t hibernate. Insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate yourself, but force yourself to go out, even if for just a short time.
    • TRIM – If old ornaments or trimmings cause too much pain, don’t hang them this year. Put them aside for another time.
    • GET UP AND MOVE – Take care of your physical well-being. Healthy foods and exercise will give you energy. Sugary and fatty foods will worsen your depression.
    • SET BOUNDARIES – Precisely explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren’t. Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.
    • IT’S NORMAL – Memory is a great blessing – and it can be a great curse. The memory of relatives separated from us by death, divorce, or distance is a legitimate source of great pain and a legitimate reason to hurt.
    • FACE YOUR LOSS – Don’t fake it, hide it, or pretend that it’s okay. Talk about your loved one. Talk about the memories and traditions you experienced with your loved one!
    • IT’S A JOURNEY – Everyone handles grief differently. There’s no one typical response to grief and no “correct” path toward healing. Healing is a personal journey with God, and we all take unique twists and turns on our journey. On your journey of healing for the holidays, at least be aware that being honest with yourself is one journey you’ll want to zig and zag toward.
    • GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION – If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like laughing, laugh. Feel the moment and let it out. We have to journey through grief. We can’t go around it or past it; in order to heal, we have to journey through it.
    • HONOR YOUR LOVED ONE – Light a candle. Plant a tree. Release balloons. Make a photo album of just your loved one that, when you are ready, you can look at any time.

    I cannot pretend that I am an expert on the “survival” part because the truth is, I am still near the beginning of my journey. For my family, we have tried to HONOR my dad this Christmas. His favorite tradition was decorating the Christmas tree. As teens, my brother and I would roll our eyes as he would put on “The Muppets Twelve Days of Christmas” song as we gathered the ornaments to place on the tree. Dad said the Christmas tree is “what makes a house a home.” Knowing how important the tree was to my dad, we knew that we had to put it up, together. So that’s what we did. My mom, my brother, my dad’s sister, and my family all decorated the tree together. We left the Christmas music off this time, but we had fun together. And I know that’s what my dad would have wanted us to do.

    decorating the christmas tree
    My dad would have loved the special decorating touch of his grandsons!

    Wherever you are at in your journey, I pray you will find moments of magic this holiday season!


    Please share, what are some Holiday Survival Tips you would add?



    1. Little did I know that this would be a timely message for me, Erica. I just found out this morning that my grandma passed away during the night last night. We were planning to see her for Christmas next week. I’m thankful that your post has prepared me for some of the feelings I might face as we gather with family to celebrate.


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