Your First Christmas Without a Loved One

Coping with a death at Christmas

It was early November 2011 that Mom took her last breath. All to quickly the holiday season crept through the front door that year. Though still feeling the numbness of her absence we began to pick up speed through all our usual festivities. School concerts, church gatherings, family, and more family began to add weight to our already heavy hearts. Christmas night was my breaking point. I slumped down on the couch fully aware of the ache in my stomach from eating a rich feast...more food than I had eaten in weeks. My chest heavy, I recognized the tidal wave of grief rolling in, and instantly felt suffocated by emotion. It was just.too.much. 

The first Christmas without our loved one is perhaps the most agonizing time of the year. A season usually filled with laughter, nearness of family, and joy loses its sparkle under the weight of grief. Even worse this year, are the restrictions placed on many of us amidst our current lockdowns and precautions. The comforts of the company of family will be absent and deeply missed for many of us here in Canada, leaving the deep throb of grief all the more raw. 

If I could go back in time I would give myself four pieces of advice, but since time travel is impossible I will share them with you instead in hopes of slightly easing the burden of the grief in your holiday season.

1. Allow yourself time to be sad.

Christmas is truly a season of joy as we remember the birth of our Redeemer, it is certainly a time to pause and celebrate! This year, let your gift to yourself be a gift of grace when the joy doesn't come as easily. Be patient, allowing yourself to be sad. Joy will return in small moments though maybe not through this holiday season, but one day. This also goes for the coming years, as grief is a rather odd emotion sneaking up when you least expect it. 

Be purposeful in taking moments to yourself or with someone you love (even if it needs to be through an internet video call) to be sad and remember the person who has passed. One day you will smile a genuine smile again. One day you will laugh again. One day you will make it through Christmas and enjoy it once more, but until then be gracious with your heart.

2. Expect fatigue

My body was beyond exhausted by the time we made it to Christmas. We had gone from death to funeral to Christmas and both my physical and mental health were deplete. Christmas day I found a quiet space at my grandparent's home, where we were visiting, and excused myself to rest for 30 minutes. Go easy on yourself this year. Slow down the pace and allow yourself to conserve your energy reserves. Allow me to give you permission to eat frozen pizza or a bowl of soup this year if that's all you can muster up in strength. There will be future years where turkeys and roast beef can have you place in the kitchen, but this year might not be it. That's ok. You will be tired as you work to process your emotions and down time will be essential. Give yourself scheduled breaks to be able to rest even if you don’t sleep.

3. Find a way to remember your loved one

On the top of our tree we place an angel that my mom had given to me just before she got sick. Every year our angel finds her place atop our tree and everyone in our home knows the angel is our precious reminder of Mom/ Grammy. You could put out a photo or ornament, light a candle, recite their favourite Bible passage, play their favourite song, or leave an extra place setting at your table. Whatever it is, do something to remember them and remind you of the cherished memories you still carry even though they are gone. It is in those sweet memories that you will find the healing balm for your wounded heart.

4. Know that how you feel won’t last forever

Christmas is no longer what it once was. Every now and then I still find myself grieving over what use to be, but we have found new ways to enjoy Christmas together. This is true whenever there are monumental changes in our lives be it a death, a move, divorce, a new baby, or anything that brings about newness good or bad. Our traditions have changed a little to adapt. Our new traditions are growing sweeter again as the holidays no longer sting like they once did. 

It is hard my sweet reader but the crushing pangs of grief will lift, don’t take my word for it, here’s what God has to say to you:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… (Ecclesiastes  3:1,4)

 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Take heart. Know that God is near you, comforting you, and strengthening you as you rest. 

Merry Christmas dear friend. 

All my love,

Like Grandma Did


  1. What a sweet post, with wise and tender advice! I agree with your kind suggestions. I also have found strength and encouragement in considering my daughter's perspective. Certain losses or disappointments seem to be harder for me than her. I try to be careful that I do not put a damper on her holiday cheer and then as I see her glee and joy, it lifts me.... Lately one of my reflective mantras seems to be, "Life is not going to be perfect until we get to Heaven" Thinking at all about Heaven, consoles and encourages me!!

    1. You are correct! Life will be perfect in Heaven! That is a good thought to dwell on when we are feeling down.


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