This will be my sixth Christmas since my dad died.
I know it’s taboo to talk about loss, especially around the holidays when we’re supposed to be giving thanks and celebrating. But the first Christmas after a loss, and the few more after it, can suck. Before you call me a grinch, please hear me out.
Everyone’s having fun with their families and friends, talking about what a great year they had, and you? You are in hell because there’s one less place at the dinner table and an empty spot on the Christmas card. Something’s missing where a person should be.
Christmas can feel like an excuse for everyone to shove their good luck in your face. Nobody they loved died. The holidays can feel like a constant reminder of the absence of someone we desperately wish was still with us.
My mom told me recently that she doesn’t remember the first Christmas after my dad died. That whole year felt like walking in a fog. While we were still processing my dad’s sudden death, the rest of the world had moved on.
Even though each person grieves differently, when everyone refuses to talk about the person that died, the silence can be deafening. I remember feeling numb, angry and sad. Even though we tried to make it as normal a Christmas as possible, the usual traditions felt empty.
But I was lucky. The saving grace of that first Christmas was the presence of my father’s best friend, Pat, who’d come to live with us after my dad died. I was worried he’d feel uncomfortable, but he somehow managed to put everyone at ease.
He told jokes and stories about my dad and even managed to make my nana smile. Pat’s ability to give space for my dad’s memory at that first Christmas wasn’t something I understood at the time. Yet, looking back, I realize how grateful I was to him. He understood something back then that it took me a while to grasp: Talking about the person helps even if the loss still hurts.
The thing about grief is, it exists whether or not we want it to. Even if we try to bottle it up, it will come out one way or another. The best we can do is find a healthy way to let it out.
I recommend smashing watermelons with a baseball bat or ripping up an old phone book. But there are other ways too, like writing, or expressing your emotions through art. Of course, therapy or support groups are always an option and can help you realize your feelings and emotions are not just okay, but normal.
If you have recently experienced a loss, I encourage you to give yourself time over the holidays to grieve in whatever way feels right for you. There’s no right or wrong way and no right or wrong timeline. There’s no clock that runs out of time on your right to miss someone.
It’s been six Christmases since my dad died and if you ask me what I want, I will still say, “My dad.”
If you know someone who’s lost someone, give them the space to grieve and ask them if they need anything. Whether it’s helping someone cook a Christmas dinner, being someone to talk to, or just being a presence around the house, I promise it makes a world of difference. And if you’re afraid bringing up their loss will upset them, I’ve found talking about my dad doesn’t remind me that he died, but rather that he lived.
I want to say it does get easier, but it takes some time. My mom and I have found little ways to keep my dad’s memory alive during the holidays without spending the whole time feeling sad.
As part of our new traditions, we read old Christmas cards my dad had written and share our favourite memories of him. It might take a while to find your balance, but it’s okay. Healing takes time and even in the season of giving, you’re allowed to take some time for yourself.