Christmas For Those Who Grieve or Struggle

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My mother-in-law passed away a year ago today. Needless to say, it was a rough Christmas. And in many ways, it’s been a rough year. There are many precious memories to remember as well as many memories left unmade. The following was originally posted December 23, 2008. I offer it up as a reminder to us all that sometimes, Christmas isn’t so merry. I don’t want to be a lead-balloon, but just a quiet voice to nudge us to think outside the holiday box.

This past week my eyes are opened to the realization that for some people Christmas will not be so merry. For our family, we are grieving the loss of someone we loved very much.

We spent several Christmases with my mother-in-law, and now, everywhere I turn something reminds me of her.

  • A brightly colored sweater that would look great on her.
  • The gingerbread house kits that she always enjoyed getting for the kids.
  • A funny thing that one of the kids says or does that I know she would chuckle at. I can almost hear her laughter.

Christmas is not quite as merry this year. And all of a sudden, I see that we are not the only ones. There are families, maybe you, maybe your neighbor, who are struggling with job losses, over-whelming debts, illness, separation, imprisonment, or death.

It’s been so easy for me in my little cave to go about my business, to plan all sorts of entertainments for my children, and not to think about what other people are experiencing. And now my eyes are opening a little more.

There are those out there for whom Christmas will not be so merry.

— the family who lost their daughter just days before her fifth birthday.
— the woman whose husband is deployed and living a life of danger so that we may be free.
— the couple pursuing adoption whose birth mother changes her mind after they’ve already placed their new son into their home and into their hearts.
— the dad who is struggling to make ends meet yet fears the layoffs.

These are real scenarios. Real people. And Christmas will be different this year.

I mention this as a gentle reminder for myself and for you to think about what we can do to bring comfort to others who might not be having so merry a Christmas. Consider one of these small acts of kindness to perform this week and then again next month when the excitement has died down but the troubles perhaps have not.

  • Call and have a conversation. Find out how they are doing. Don’t be afraid of their sadness. Walk alongside them.
  • Extend an invitation to dinner. It may feel awkward at first. But be real. Be a friend.
  • Take them a meal so that they can have a night off cooking. Food doesn’t solve life’s problems, but it is a comfort.
  • Offer to watch the kids so the couple can have a date, or so the single parent can have a little down time.

These are just my first thoughts. Anybody else have some ideas? Please tell us in the comments section.

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  1. I just got a call this afternoon that my cousin’s little 18 month old baby girl died in her sleep. I am stunned.

  2. Posts like this are always helpful…not only to those who grieve, but those who don't understand.

    We lost my Nana on Christmas eve 3 years ago. I know every Christmas grows increasingly more difficult for my grandfather – after all, they were mates for 55 years!

    My maternal grandma passed in 2005, and while I had many, many, many happy memories made with her, I still grieve her loss. Every year, my husband sets up the tree, quietly hands me a box of specially wrapped ornaments, and sets a box of Kleenex next to me. He takes the 2 year old out for a bit of fun, and lets me be to unwrap each ornament Gamma (as she was known) gave me each year, set it on the tree, cry a bit, be thankful she's with my Grandpa and with the Lord. I know in time, I'll feel the loss less acutely, but 4 years later, it still stings.

    This year has been hard for many in my family, financially speaking. Many relatives are jobless, money is very tight. It doesn't make the atmosphere very festive, you'd think…but this forced "paring back" has allowed many of us to become much closer, and just enjoy the season, remembering that poor Babe that was born on a cold night…and the real reason we should always have joy.

  3. Thank you for reminding us. I love your photo. We're having our 1st Christmas without my Father-in-law. We cleaned his coffee stains out of the carpet this weekend and all were in tears. A church I used to attend back home in Canada used to have a grieving service on Christmas day for people to bring them comfort. I love this idea.

  4. Thank you for reminding us. I love your photo. We're having our 1st Christmas without my Father-in-law. We cleaned his coffee stains out of the carpet this weekend and all were in tears. A church I used to attend back home in Canada used to have a grieving service on Christmas day for people to bring them comfort. I love this idea.

  5. Always, always, always miss my grandparents.

    I have a close family friend whose husband died of cancer in May – two weeks before my daughter's wedding. His birthday was Nov. 30. I know his wife, two girls, and their husbands and children miss him terribly.

    My son's girlfriend's father is in Afghanistan until February. They are used to his deployments, but it's still hard at Christmas.

    Thanks for the reminder to reach out to them.

  6. This will be our fist Christmas without my mother-in-law, we lost her August 1st, just 19 days after she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer… pneumonia actually took her… in the good lung. Rambling, sorry! It's weird how grief can just sneak up on you when you think you're doing okay… my two year old will never remember her… he saw a picture of her the other day and didn't know who she was… I cried. She was the heart and soul of her family… it's so different now. I find peace and awe in knowing that she's actually in Heaven! She's there right now! Wow, right!?

    Anyway, thank you for your post. An unexpected blessing. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  7. WOW, I was sitting here at work and thinking of my mom who died 1-30-08 suddenly and how Christmas just doesn't feel the same anymore and on verge of tears. The first Christmas and Thanksgiving everyone came out the woodwork and called and checked on my family and kids, but I guess now people just sort of forget. It is good to remember that we aren't all alone in our sorrow.


  8. Thank you for posting this. We lost my husband October 31 from complications of H1N1. He was 44 years old. While I'm trying to keep Christmas as positive as possible for my three kids, it is nice to know that I'm not alone in missing a loved one this Christmas.

  9. I feel so sad for the sorrow you have all voiced. I hope that, though the season will be hard, it can also be a comfort to you because we celebrate when Christ came to the earth. He came to suffer sorrow so he would know how to comfort us; He came so that we might all live again some day. Thank you for the reminder that we need to look out for those around us who need a loving arm.

  10. My grandma died this morning. What timing to read your post! Although she was almost 92 and lived a full life it is still sad. There will be a loss in our family for sure.

    Best of luck to all of you out there dealing with the same kind of thing.

  11. I know what you mean. I spent my
    25th wedding anniversary (4 years ago) at my mother-in-law's wake. I miss her all the time, even though her passing was a blessing due to her numerous health problems. Diabetes caused her to have heart and kidney problems, among others, and in her last few years she fell further into dementia. The woman we knew was long gone before she really left us…yet I'd still love to be able to have a talk with her again!
    I'll never stop missing her, or my father-in-law, or my dad or my two brothers, but I promise you, it does hurt a little less over time.

  12. Thank you so much for writing this, FishMama.

    My Dad is in the ICU and will remain there until he is strong enough to go to a care facility. Because of the need for 24-hour medical care, he will not be able to come home. My Mom and I are reeling and are just working on managing one day at a time.

    Even though you asked me yesterday how we're doing, ask me again tomorrow–next month–next year. Our lives won't be the same any longer and it helps to have a shoulder to cry on.

    Many hugs to you, your family, and all the others who have commented.

  13. Well said. Christmas was hard when I was going through infertility. Luckily I have my son now, but I won't forget those years listening to the part on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas when it says "Next year all our troubles will be miles away" over and over agin and crying.

    My heart goes out to all of you who have troubles this year.

  14. We lost out daughter nearly 2 years ago. Here's a post I did on helping the grieving parent:

    As far as Christmas in particular…REMEMBER. I mention that in the post I did, but it really deserves saying it again. Remember their troubles, their child, their grandmother, their heartache…

    A child of a friend died a few months after Emily did and we keep a purple ribbon in her honor next to one of Emily's ornaments on the Christmas tree. It's a small thing, but it shows we remember…not just our daughter, but hers as well.

    {{HUGS}} to all,

  15. God's fingerprints are on and in this post. Einstein said "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous". Every post so far mentions that coincidence in some way. I think there will be many more. God bless us, every one.

  16. This post is so timely for me. We just returned from taking my husband to the airport. He's deploying to Iraq for 6 months. Of all the TDY's and deployments we've endured in our nearly 10 years of marriage, this is the first time he's missed Christmas.

  17. It's nice to know that there are some people who understand….

    My daughter died in 2005, and my husband followed her to heaven in 2008. Needless to say Christmas is not merry. Last year I was all alone…. just me and my dog… even though it was barely a month after my husband died, everyone thought it was the right thing to just leave me alone. I said I didn't want to celebrate christmas, I did not say I wanted to be alone. No one even phoned me or emailed me. I'm sure it will be the same this year. But I'm prepared. I got about 10 movies sitting waiting for me to watch that day. And kleenex. Lots of Kleenex.

    1. Ter, I am so sorry to hear this. I don’t know if you will get this message since it has been such a long time since you wrote it… anyway, I am looking for advice to help my mother. She lost her husband (my stepdad since I was about 20) in February. Only weeks after losing one of her best friends. Both to Cancer 🙁 She is alone in the house I grew up in about 30 mins from me, my husband and 3 kids. My only sibling, my brother lives 18 hours away with his wife & 2 kids. She still has to work and we’re very busy with the kids, etc. I try to get over to see her once a week, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I don’t know how to help her except to spend time with her. When I visit, I help her with any issues she has, ie her tv not working right, dying her hair, helping her decorate for the holiday (that she really doesn’t care to do). My friends and I have given her many 1 portion frozen homemade meals, which has helped her a lot and raised her spirits. But my question is… is there anything that I can do for her for Christmas that may lift her spirits? Would something remembering her husband be a good or bad thing? Should we get together at her house or mine? Any advice would be great! Thank you!

  18. Thanks so much for your post! This is my son's Christmas with his father (alternate every other year). He will be gone 12/18-26. It is very depressing to wake up alone in a house on Christmas Day.

  19. I truly understand where you are coming from. My father died last November. Christmas was different. All the more so because my mother died 8 years earlier. Christmas was very different. I had to make a decision that I would concentrate on Christmas for my children's sake. Not for me. Even though there was much I did not want to do. I did it because they needed the consistency. They needed to know that while Granddaddy isn't forever. Jesus is. Concentrating on the real meaning of Christmas didn't make the pain go away, but it helped.

  20. My family is dealing with death of a different sort. My husband and I are divorcing and this will be the first Christmas we won't all be together. My boys are in the military and only one of them can come 'home'. I ache for all of us and wish I could cancel Christmas this year.
    To the other posters, I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll keep you all in my thoughts.
    Thank you for your reminder to be aware of those who are hurting this season. I appreciate it.

  21. Always an appropriate reminder. the first Christmas after the death of my son was so hard, I remember most the kindness of others who remembered that it would be hard for me.
    thank you!

  22. I lost my Dad in September. I am the executrix of his will. That has included trying to sell his house, truck, cleaning out the house I grew up in, etc.

    What has struck me most is that I haven't had time to process his death because of these things I must do, and that losing him brings home the pain of losing my mother 12 years ago even more.

    Suddenly, at the age of 44, I am an orphan.

    I usually do a newsy, funny holiday letter for our cards. I couldn't bear it this year. I sent photo cards and that was it.

    Thanks for spreading the word that the holidays are tough for some folks.

  23. This is the second such post that I have read this morning. It is helping me to know that even though others might not understand my pain, I am not the only one grieving.

    I lost my sweet Mom in Oct. after a very long year of battling ovarian cancer and other medical complications. The hole is so deep and wide in my heart…

    Thanks for the post.

  24. Understanding, a gentle pat on the shoulder is worth more than words sometimes or a hug. I just lost one of my best friends and you may or may not understand that he was a canine family member. My heart is absolutely breaking and Christmas this year will not be so merry….maybe next year. He was my K9 Partner in Search and Rescue and we have been through so much together. His passing was very sudden so it has been hard in that aspect as well. I've lost three of my beloved animals this year alone and some other hardships as well…..What I know is this – God is and has been there for me through all of this and with his Love I'll move on – but understanding and gentle gestures speak louder than words right now.
    Thanks for the post.

  25. Ironic (or maybe just God's timing) that you posted this today. My grandmother died last night and, though we weren't to going to see her at Christmas this year, she will be missed.