Grief Can Make the Holidays Beautiful if We Let It

Grief can make the holidays beautiful if we let it. Remember and honor your missing loved ones this season.
It’s hard to believe that this will be the third Christmas my family will celebrate without my mom.

This still makes me a newbie at missing someone during the holiday season. However, while pondering my own grieving process and the past two years without my mom, there is one thing that really stood out to me:

It’s okay for grief be a part of this season.

Hear me out.

Over the past three years people have asked me, doesn’t it feel like there’s something massive missing from your life? Aren’t you miserable as you celebrate the many family traditions without your mom? How can you want grief to be a part of the season when nothing will ever be the same?

There are many gaping holes in our Christmas celebrations without my mom. It was Mom who bought all the Christmas presents for everyone. It was Mom who made the apple bread and the raspberry meringue cookies (and all the other cookies, too. We just came and stole the cookie batter.) It was Mom who planned the menu for Christmas Eve. It was Mom who wrote all the Christmas cards. The list goes on.

Being the only girl, my brothers and my dad ask me questions all the time, “Genevieve, how did Mom do this?” Or they’ll say things like, “Well, just do it the way that Mom did it.”

“Umm, slight problem, guys. Mom didn’t tell me how to do it, so, just like you, I have no idea what’s going on.”

There are also traditions Mom and I would do together — just us girls. One of the parts of Christmas I miss the most is wrapping presents with her. Mom and I would head down to the basement together, put on the Christmas music we liked (the boys were not fans of Josh Groban), and wrap presents while singing Christmas songs together. Let me tell you, it is not as fun wrapping presents and singing along to songs by yourself.

Finally, there are traditions that we have only because of Mom. We have this beautiful crèche set that my parents received as a wedding gift. Every night after the beginning of Advent, we add one more figurine to the display as we await the coming of Jesus on Christmas night. Without Mom, we wouldn’t have this beautiful family tradition that helps us prepare our hearts for Christmas.

My heart aches when I think about all our beautiful memories and the fact that she’s no longer here.

But that’s exactly the point.

If those gaps that are there specifically because of Mom didn’t matter, her being gone wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t hurt. It is precisely because she matters that Christmas brings out this grief.

Christmas, actually, the entire holiday season, should hurt.

It’s okay to let it hurt. It’s okay to grieve.

As I type this, one of my mom’s favorite Christmas songs is playing in my headphones. Does it hurt a little to listen to it because it reminds me of her? Yes. Would I trade that hurt for 27 Christmases without my mom? Not for anything in the world.

Bittersweet is such a cliché word when it comes to talking about grief. But it is perfectly applicable here.

While I sit here listening to this song, I’m thinking about how many times my mom and I would stop wrapping presents to sing along together to this song. I’m thinking about the smell of chocolate chip cookies. I’m thinking about the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights as the family heads out to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

I’m thinking about all the beautiful moments I have, now memories, because of my mom.

So while the tears gather in my eyes, I let myself feel that grief. It’s impossible, usually, to remember and not grieve. I want to remember. Remembering keeps my mom’s memory alive. Remembering helps us to continue the traditions, maybe slightly modified, that Mom started. It’s what allows us to make new traditions she would be proud of. It’s what brings the smile through the tears.
Grieving during the holidays can be beautiful if we let it, especially by continuing the same holiday traditions your loved ones started, like this image of a woman baking.

I would like to leave you with two thoughts that bring me much comfort throughout this season.

The first: I know if Mom could be with us during the holidays, she would be. So I try to find ways to bring her into the holiday season. One of the best ways to do this, other than celebrating family traditions, is to talk about her with my family and friends. “Mom would be so mad I burnt her raspberry meringues this year.” “Mom would have loved singing Christmas carols to the new baby cousin.” “Do you remember how much Mom loved opening the Christmas ornaments we bought for her every year?” These conversations keep her close. It’s almost, almost like she’s there with us.

The second: As a Catholic, I know she is in a better place and that I will see her again. Of course I miss her. But I will try to carry on her legacy through our holiday traditions and by being the woman she raised me to be until the day I see her again. And when we do see each other again, perhaps we might just wrap Christmas presents together while singing our favorite Christmas songs.

In short, I give you the permission to truly and beautifully let this season hurt. Maybe just a little bit. Maybe a lot a bit. (Grief is a funny thing. You can’t always control how much you grieve or when you grieve.)

But that hurt is indeed a beautiful thing.

Because of it, you know you were loved and you loved in return. It means you have memories, happy memories. No, this season will never be the same. But you can make new memories while remembering and honoring who that person was and how that person continues to shape who you are.

I cannot change the fact that my mom died. I can change how I let grief affect this holiday season. I choose to let grief add beauty to this season. I choose to bring a little bit of my mom’s Christmas spirit to those around me.

Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you.

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