How To Cope During The Holiday Season When You’re Missing A Parent

There are many things in life that define the “holiday season” for individuals. Some say that it’s the change in the weather, the crisp, cool breeze that awakens you in the morning through your window, as your way-too-old heater spews out dry air on your face. Others say it’s when the radio stations in your city begin playing holiday favorites and every convenience store you enter smells like peppermint and evergreen. And, still, there are those who believe the one way they know the holiday season is approaching has to do with everything to do with their family. For the best reasons, our parents are the ones who set forth the nostalgic traditions that we so often take for granted, but secretly cherish deep down within our souls.

When the holiday season comes around, we’re always reminded that mom and dad did so many things for us when we were children and look forward to reliving that “kid on Christmas morning” feeling even as teens and adults. But, when you lose one of the foundations of your holiday traditions and you’re missing an important link in your memories, it’s almost hard to get excited about the season every year, time and time again.

When I lost my father, I was told that grief comes in stages. There would be the immediate stages of grief when I would be constantly reminded he was gone when everyone sent their condolences. But, I’d never be alone, with so much support around me, I’d never truly have to emotionally face the reality of losing my dad. Then,  I was told I’d hit the mark where people had to go back to their regularly scheduled programs, and I was left to face the truth – living life without my father. This was going to be the most painful grieving process of all, they told me. People claimed that having to live my everyday live without the phone calls, the text messages, or the weekend breakfast meets would be hard to deal with. And, then, they warned me about my first holiday season without my father.

Many people say that the first holiday you spend without your loved one is by far the most painful. The wounds of sadness and grief are fresh and brand new, trying to heal itself like a scab. But, like a toddler with an inquiring mind, the holiday season picks the scab off and watches you bleed out, in nothing but sorrow and misery. You sit around the dinner table looking at an empty chair. You have one less card to open, one less “I love you” to read, one less person to call and wish “happy holidays” to. It hurts, and it’s painful.

But, I’d have to say that the first holiday season without your loved one is not the hardest one, but it’s the ones long after that truly hurt the most. After your parent has been gone for three, four years, it feels as though those around you allow them to drift into the background as a distant memory in terms of your holiday traditions. It’s been so long that they’ve been gone, you’ve been forced to make new traditions, find new ways to celebrate and give thanks, find new ways to embrace your family. And, the more time that passes by, the less we remember the old traditions, the ones we used to look forward to in days that were fuller and brighter. We stop having the conversations of “remember when” and start looking forward, as people’s lives progress and move forward, leaving our loved ones in the dust.

It’s hard to constantly bring up your parents who have passed during a time where people want to celebrate and be joyous. But, you should never let their memory completely fade away. There will be new experiences, new members to join your clan, new traditions that come to light as your family grows, people move forward, have children of their own – but your late parent’s memory should never be pushed away, in the darkness while you live in the light.

The best way to cherish your loved one’s memory during a happy time is to embrace who they were. Don’t neglect to bring them up in conversation during the holiday season, just out of fear you may upset someone else at the dinner table. Allow their memory to thrive and prosper, alongside the new memories you make. Remind your family of hilarious and heartwarming moments when they were there. Surround yourself with those who made your loved one feel whole and satisfied. Bring their videos and pictures out from the basement.

It’s okay to bask in the sadness every once in a while during this time of year. It’s healthy to let out the tears, no matter how many years have past. It’s normal to feel like someone is missing from your holiday, as though it is incomplete. Cherish the times you had together as an entire family and never, ever let their name stay inside of your mind, and not leave your lips.

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Written by Lex Gabrielle

A writer and teacher from New York City who fully supports messy buns and 3+ cups of coffee a day.