Scary holiday that is not Halloween.

“One of the reasons that loss can feel so overwhelming is that it disrupts many components of your identity all at once. The loss of a loved one hurts because a relationship that formed a cornerstone of your experience of the world is no longer there. It’s as if someone removed all of the familiar landmarks in your neighborhood.”

It is in sections like this, when he is describing the experience of grief, that Sameet M. Kumar is most helpful to me, in his book Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping With Loss.

My current sense of this disorienting loss of familiar landmarks has to do with the Christmas season. From my widow’s perspective, Christmas is frightening. I don’t consciously think that in my mind, but I gather it from my sudden reactions to the displays of decorations in stores, and the way I start to choke up at the thought of buying a tree and taking the ornaments out of their boxes.

The tree was always my husband’s project; had the decision been left to me, our family might never have had a Christmas tree, if my feelings at the beginning of our marriage were any indication. I always felt that his family, because of their Christian focus, knew better how to “do Christmas” than I did. I learned a lot from them over the years, and my husband and I passed on traditions to our children.

In the last fifteen years I’ve also come to know that the heart of Christmas, my own Christmas-heart, is in thekishan tree pic Church, and for that many years I have attended Liturgy on Christmas morning, and I keep the Nativity Fast; those practices will be unchanged. I would suppose that after all these years Christmas would have its own richness and momentum supported by the Church and by all the Glad people loving each other, and that I would be carried gently along in the flow.

It’s not like that. In our family’s culture and history, Christmas is mostly about Family. For me, the heart of my family was my husband, and he’s a pretty big landmark to go missing.

19 thoughts on “Scary holiday that is not Halloween.

  1. HUGS. I think the holidays, esp. the first year, are hard. But I sense that you have a wonderful group of friends and church community and I hope and pray that you will be with them on that holy day of Christ’s birth. But Oh! how much I love my husband and I can only imagine how hard it is. We still pray for you and your beloved departed husband daily and I send my love to you. (((HUGS)))

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re so thorough with your heart-processing, GJ. Your children seem so dear and loving. I would imagine that you will graciously walk through Christmas, needy in a good way, grieving as you love Bill, remembering his good Christmas ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very poignant post. “I would suppose that after all these years Christmas would have its own richness and momentum supported by the Church and by all the Glad people loving each other, and that I would be carried gently along in the flow.” Such a lovely and hopeful thought, and I’m sure you will experience some of this. But of course your husband’s loss leaves a huge gap in your family. I pray the Lord’s comfort and blessings on you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Deborah, I think I will experience a lot of that flow of love. And usually, for me, the anticipation of scary events is worse than the event ever could be, so I am expecting goodness that way, too. Thank you for your prayers!


  4. Dear Gretchen

    I feel painfully aware, as you face each holiday. You soldier on though and I think you are the bravest person I know. I don’t know if I could do as well as you.

    I loved that quote. I have so many books on grief on my shelf. I have read them over and over. I think the one you just quoted from has the best handle on it, as if though anyone could ever understand or grasp grief.

    Thank you for sharing. I loved your last post with your sisters. I realized I didn’t leave a comment. I read it on my phone and I am not very good at leaving comments there. I never knew that tree smelled like vanilla. I am a great fan of manzanita too.


  5. This makes so much sense to me. My Father died on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week when I was an infant. Our Thanksgiving holidays always lacked some of the enthusiasm exhibited by other families. Although Mom never commented on it at the time, she just never could get into the holiday. Will keep you in prayer this difficult Christmas season.


  6. Yes, it’s hard to recreate traditions when some of those we love most have moved on. My husband and I both felt this way when our two boys moved out of state. Now with Bob gone, too, I’m trying to build new traditions with my daughter and her family. I would prefer to center things around church, but it’s also nice to have little grands who still delight in simple gifts. It may take a while to really form something new and meaningful. God bless you, friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa, no doubt you are in yourself and by your presence a most meaningful “tradition” for your family, even if it seems a bit lacking that the “new” aspect is that you stand in for your late husband, too.


  7. Gretchen, you are brave and inspiring. Praying for strength and grace to transcend the moments when sorrow hits. Thank you for recommending the book to help others who love your blog to handle grief.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I discovered today that a number of your previous posts had gone into my spam folder. This makes me very distressed, but at least I have found them now…I am praying for you….The days that are connected to my husband’s life and death are still difficult for me, eight years later. I expect they always will be. But there is some healing and that is a blessing…..

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s my experience the woman who made the first comment is entirely wrong. It’s not just holidays that are hard, it’s each and every day, and holy days don’t get any easier simply because they keep coming ’round. It’s true I don’t fall into a heap at the mere mention of Dave’s name but it’s also true tears still come, expected and unexpected; there’s not a day goes by that I don’t exclaim, “Oh Dave, I miss you so much!”

    If this is healing, I’ll take it; if it’s not healing, I’ll take it anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh Gretchen, I can’t imagine. I’ve heard of widows who don’t put up a tree for several years after they lose their husbands — they just can’t. It’s painful either way, but I guess less so to not try to do all the familiar activities. I hope your church life will give continuity to you as you consider Jesus’s coming. Love you.

    Liked by 1 person

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