Finding Joy While Grieving at Christmas

The holidays can be a difficult time for some. One woman shares how she's channeling her grief into joyous action this season.

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Posted in , Dec 6, 2013

christmas joy

Every December 15th,  I take a break from wrapping gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and crossing off other essentials of my holiday to do list to visit the grave of my grandmother on the anniversary of her death.

I take my children with me and usually a poinsettia or bouquet of ivy and firs. We weave through the plots, bundled up in winter wear and stop at the plot where grandma was laid to rest. Though she has been gone 18 years now, the month of December is still tainted with her absence.

And not just hers. The same year she died, cancer took my teacher, Miss Ellis on December 6th. A warm-hearted teacher who encouraged me to love learning in the 3 short months I knew her. On December 24th, our beloved family dog, Jake, was hit by a car and killed. December 7th, marks my dear friend, Nate’s birthday who was killed in a work accident 3 years ago. My parents also divorced in December, just 3 years ago, That is a complicated version of a kind of death, the death of a marriage. A day barely passes during the holiday season that isn't shadowed with grief and reminders of how things ought to be. The "happy holidays" I thought would always fill the winter months are riddled with a mix of emotions that leave me willing January to arrive faster.

It wasn't until my children were old enough to embrace Christmas traditions, when they were 3 and 5, that I made the deliberate decision to channel my sadness into joyous action. I didn't feel any less sad inside, but holiday happiness is was what I wanted to choose and act on - for them and for myself. 

Slowly, I began to accept that though my losses will never disappear and will likely increase as the years go on, they don’t have to define my holiday. Instead, each December offers another opportunity for me to turn my sorrow into a tattered, but worthy semblance of joy. 

Rather than be swallowed by sadness, it’s become my goal to honor those that I love with happiness. It's what they would want. That I know without question.

So, this year, I'll bake cookies with my children in honor of Miss Ellis. We will laugh and eat bites of dough. Then we'll add extra sprinkles and read Christmas books under a cozy blanket while they bake. For Nate we will become angels of fun and friendship and go shopping for toys for kids who need an extra surprise under their tree. On the 15th I'll share stories about my treasured Grammy on our walk to her gravestone. I'll tell my kids that I can't wait for them to meet her in heaven one day and since death isn't scary to them yet, they'll cheer and say they can't wait to go to heaven and meet her too. And as Christmas approaches we'll love on the animals at the shelter in honor of Jake, I’ll hold my husband extra tight, and I’ll make sure my parents know that they’re equally loved.

Our tomorrows aren't promises, they are merely hopes. Because of this, I’ll reverently acknowledge that the Christmas season isn’t how I thought it would be and that’s okay. I’ll allow myself to be sad, sometimes mad, and even weary from the toll life has taken. But I’ll always take steps to make this season as full and as meaningful as possible by seeking joy every day and embracing the journey it takes to find it.  

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