Dealing With Holidays After Loss

Ivy says:

While my one grandma is still going strong at 91 years old, we lost my other grandma very suddenly on August 31, 2007. She was 79 years old. As that grandma was part mom, part grandma, and part friend, it was a very deep loss for me. Now I’ve had over a year to come to terms and I have some advice on dealing with holidays without your loved one.

Keep in mind, the first of any holiday without your loved one will be hard, particularly if they were the family matriarch or patriarch. If the holidays were held at their house, you may be scrambling to figure out which holiday goes where. Understand that things will never be the same.

You will discover a new normal. You’ll still have thoughts about how you need to tell your loved one something, you’ll have moments that will take you completely off guard, and you’ll feel the grief all over again, as raw as it was when you first found out.

Do NOT let anyone tell you the way you are grieving is not okay. When my friend Molly’s dad died, she laughed with us through the entire funeral. People thought she was being inappropriate, but that was how she dealt with it. Everyone deals with things differently. Give your family the respect of letting them grieve their way. It’s easy to be very selfish about the loss you feel, but remember- you are not the only one who lost when that person died.

And while I’m not that I’m telling you how to grieve, I want to warn you of falling into a trap of remembering only the good or only the bad about your loved one. After my grandma died, I began thinking of her as my sainted grandmother, she could do no wrong. I was lucky and acquired her diary from the mid to late 1960s and was able to remember her as a whole person- good things, bad things, funny things, completely batty and off the wall things. It was really then, that I was able to let go and say goodbye appropriately. Remembering her as my sainted grandmother and what a terrible, terrible loss it was, did not do me or anyone else any good.

This also applies to people you have anger towards. It’s easy to think, good riddance, adios. But deep down you’ll remember the good, and it will niggle at you and cause guilt. When I lost my grandfather, it took nearly ten years to let go of the anger I harbored. Remembering him as a whole and fallible person instead of the spectre of my anger and hurt has gone a long way in the improvement of my own mental health.

But back to the holidays- remember it’s okay to reminisce. Think of the funny times, the happy times, and even the sad times. It’s totally normal for those first holidays without your loved one to be a little sad, a little deflated- even a little angry. Pull together with your family, even if there are problems with things like the division of that person’s property. After a loss, the family you have is more important than ever.


  1. Heather on November 16, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Thank you for this post. I lost my mother this Spring (right before Mother’s Day) after a three-year-long illness. Her death wasn’t unexpected, but the loss still takes my breath away at times. I’m blessed with two small daughters, and every holiday and birthday has been hard.

    Thanksgiving this year will be spent with my father (they were divorced), and I’m going to keep myself busy. I just hope that the holidays will get better with time.

    Take care,

  2. Suzanne on November 14, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Dear Ivy and all,

    This is an excellent, timely post, with Thanksgiving just around the corner. I lost my favorite grandmother a month before I lost my husband, in 1999. Thanksgiving was our favorite holiday, so none of the observances now seem the same, as you stated. It’s very important, I believe, to know this fact, so that you can find new and/or
    different ways to celebrate important occasions that are forever altered.

    I do hope that you find lovely surprises on this and every holiday hereafter. By finding joy in these places where your loved ones have been, you honor their lives and their spirit.


  3. Pam on November 13, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Those were wonderful thoughts….even though we have a pretty large blended-extended family we always have bonus friends/coworkers who have no-one & no where to go. I feel
    blessed to be able to extend the invitation and to set the example to our grandchildren to be inclusive of all races-cultures and beliefs.
    God Bless

  4. Carol on November 13, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing. The post brought tears to my eyes since we just got passed the 1 year anniversary of losing my father in law. Not to mention the other loved ones that have passed in the past years. The holidays are hard, but not as hard as the everyday moments that hit you like a mack truck. I don’t think the grief of those moments ever get easier.

    I am blessed with 2 darlings boys that help to take the pain and the grief away. Without them, I think I would just skip most of the holidays.

  5. Keter on November 13, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Great post, Ivy. Other than my son, my last relative passed by the time I was 26. Most holidays were spent as just the two of us, a friend or two and a couple of Airmen or Soldiers who had to stay in town for the holiday. If you don’t have a family, you make one, I suppose. ;o)

    Parting thought: the holiday is not about you, it’s about the spirit of the holiday. Concentrate on that and be in the moment, and that may help if grief comes calling. Hugs to all who are missing someone this holiday season.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.