This will be our eighth Christmas without him.

My grandfather was a man of few words. The adjective “quiet” fit him to a T. Still, he was there for everything. Impromptu dinners, horse-riding competitions, graduations, and especially Christmas. There’s just something about sitting on the couch next to your grandpa while watching “Miracle on 34th Street” together.

The first Christmas was definitely the hardest holiday ever. We did well, Mama, Daddy, Grandma, my brothers, and I, but I kept wishing we had a need to pull one more extra chair up next to the dining room table.

This Christmas will be our eighth without that strong, steady presence and wood-shaving-and-laundry-detergent scent that clung to his plaid shirts. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I have learned three things about combining grief and celebration. I’ll be holding these truths close come Christmas Day.

The first Christmas was definitely the hardest holiday ever. I kept wishing we had a need to pull one more extra chair up next to the dining room table.

Acknowledge it will be different.

I hated admitting it was true. But I knew it couldn’t possibly be the same without him. So I accepted it. Then I railed about it. I accepted it again. I cried out to God about how much I loathed it. Finally, I thanked God for the eighteen Christmases I got to share with that great man and I realized just how important it is to…

Take time to be sad.

No matter how hard I tried, I failed at forcing joy in the weeks leading up to that first December 25th without him. Oh, there was joy; lots of it, in fact. I love Christmas. December is still my favorite month—I am looking forward to it this year as much as I ever have. The day we celebrate our Savior’s birthday is still my favorite holiday—that hasn’t changed. 

But there was still a hole when at last the day dawned last year.

I came to realize that the hole only stretched wider when I tried to stuff it closed with false bravado. So finally I let myself cry. I smiled at old pictures and got weepy as I remembered special memories. I looked ahead to days on which I’d miss him (my wedding day, etc.) and I reached for the tissues.

There’s something healing about tears.

As my grandma says, God gave us tears for a reason: to let them out every once in a while.

Make the day special for someone else.

I learned that lesson anew when I felt sad during the Sunday service the weekend before Thanksgiving and the children in church were collecting money for a children’s home in the upstate. There I was, thinking about how lonely I was and how I didn’t want to have Thanksgiving without Grandpa, when that simple Turkey card reminded me of just how blessed I am to live in a home with a family that loves me.

This Christmas I want to be a blessing to someone else, whether that be a friend, a coworker, a classmate, or a complete stranger. Maybe I’ll set up a Skype visit with a good friend or offer to babysit so my coworker can get her Christmas shopping done. Maybe I’ll smile at a tired woman in the mall. (I feel better already, just thinking of the possibilities.)

If you’re facing a hard holiday this year, what are some of the things you have learned about wanting to cry on Christmas?

(originally published in 2012; edited from the archives)

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

10 Comments

  1. I’m sorry about your grandfather. I always find the need to grieve a bit on Christmas. But it is a different sort of grief as I am a missionary abroad. I miss my childhood and my family at the same time. It feels like I’m twice-removed from it all and we’re not even in the same time zone. Today I sobbed as I listened to some carols that just don’t translate into Russian. Even though I know I am partly just being nostalgic, the grief of the separation is real. I just let myself cry a little bit and then try to be in the present. Because if I think too far ahead in the future, I can get carried away with emotion, too. There are so many aspects of Christmas that send me to my knees, in worship AND supplication. But I agree that it’s important to find some other people to focus on and try to make the holiday special for them.

    1. Elizabeth, thank you for commenting and sharing your heart. I’m sorry you don’t get to be with your family this holiday season; that kind of sacrifice is equally as hard. I’m glad you take the time to grieve it and cry; that is healthy. I am praying that God’s peace will surround you today. The promise of Immanuel–He is with us–rings true even this week after Christmas.
      Hugs,
      Rachelle

  2. I lost my Mother on 12/24/13. Every holiday since has been hard. My daughters and I had Christmas last year but I don’t really remember much. So this year I had a very hard time starting with thanksgiving day being the last holiday we had with her lasy year. Christmas was sad and I don’t know when it gets better.

    1. Hi Cindy, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m praying for God’s peace for you and your daughters as we begin this New Year.

  3. Sweet Rachelle…I so wished I could tell you “it gets better,” but that’s simply not the case. I do know that your Grandpa would most certainly love you making it special for others. He himself did that for us his last Christmas here. There are still times…even after 11 years, I find myself missing my Grandaddy and wishing I could share these current life’s moments with him. A hotline to heaven sure would be nice sometimes! We love you!

  4. Hi Rachelle,
    Loosing someone I love has always been my greatest fear. But I know it’s one that I will have to face time and time again throughout this life here on earth. This post gave me courage. I usually avoid thinking about death altogether but something about looking it straight in the face and accepting it is freeing. It reminds me of how you said you looked through old pictures and let yourself cry. It seems like you faced what had happened and then allowed yourself to move on and bless someone else. Thanks for this post.

    Love & grace,
    Nicole Cascio
    Life Coach For Women 20somethings
    http://www.Hisrelentlesslove.com
    http://www.facebook.com/Hisrelentlesslove

  5. Kirsten, our Christmas ended up being pretty quiet, too, and even though it was hard, it wasn’t as hard as last year.

    Blessings!
    Rachelle

  6. Kirsten D. says:

    Just a note to thank you for sharing this, and to let you know you’re not alone. My grandfather passed away a few weeks before Christmas in 2001…and my mom passed away a little more than a week before Christmas in 2011. So this was technically our second Christmas without her, but felt more like a first…and I didn’t honestly feel much like celebrating or starting new family traditions with my husband and two babies yet. Next year, maybe, but this year we all needed it quiet. That’s okay, too.

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