When Holidays Hurt

December 16, 2011 — 3 Comments

Those who know me can attest to the fact that I absolutely love the Christmas season. Really, everything from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day is just fun and festive. I enjoy the music, the lights, the parties, the food. I just like it all.

One of my dad’s favorite Christmas songs is Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” For many this year, the holidays are proving especially challenging — even blue, as the case may be. I know a number of people who have lost loved ones and are spending their first Christmas without a spouse, a child, a mother, a father, a sibling, a grandparent, or a best friend. For those who are grieving a loss, Christmastime can actually exacerbate their feelings of sadness and loneliness. Many of these people will make a brave effort to carry on. They may have managed to haul out the decorations, put up the tree, and listen to some festive music, but it’s just not the same.

The very memories that comfort can also evoke a deeper pain. Little things the person never even thought about before are now right at the forefront of the mind. They run across an ornament that held special meaning for their loved one, and their eyes begin to water. They hear a silly Christmas song that used to drive their loved one crazy — or a sappy movie often shared together — yet somehow this year that memory just underscores the sense of loss. They cook — or are served — a favorite holiday food their loved one just couldn’t do without, and it just doesn’t taste the same. During times like this we often discover a profound truth: The things we thought we loved most were really only loved because of the ones we shared them with.

There are many firsts that are hard to handle:

  • Finding that stocking and knowing it probably doesn’t need to be hung this year.
  • Addressing Christmas cards, signed without the deceased family member’s name. (This exercise is ten times worse when the annual card or letter is the means by which news of the death must be shared with long-distance friends and acquaintances.)
  • Realizing that this year is the first year — maybe ever — that cards and/or gifts will not be exchanged with that special person.

Of course, death is not the only thing that can sour the holiday season. There are many parents dealing with devastating illnesses — for themselves or one of their children. Every effort may be made to make this Christmas the best one ever. After all, the unspoken fear is that this might be the last one they’ll have together. And even with all the effort put forward, the reality is that neither party may have enough energy to actually enjoy it.

I’ve been reminded this year that life is so incredibly precious. I attended one funeral service last week in Mississippi — and had another this week that I really should have attended. Over the next couple days I’ll attend two more. I have several friends and family members fighting extremely uphill battles with cancer — and other friends who are sitting with their terminally ill children, already in hospice care. For them, twinkling Christmas lights just don’t matter much right now.

With just a week or so left before Christmas Day, let me offer a few thoughts. Perhaps you are one of those people I’ve described above. If so, don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone grieves a little differently. Resist the urge to isolate yourself from the hustle and bustle around you. The sounds that seem so obnoxiously annoying this year will, in time, gain a new sense of significance that you’ll again appreciate. Joy can return to your hurting heart — and it will. Also, know that as silly as it might sound, a ‘scheduled cry time’ may take the edge off and allow you to be more engaged with those around you. You must find what works for you — and unfortunately that process is mainly trial-and-error.

If you’re someone who just stumbled upon this page and is thinking, “How depressing!”, then I congratulate you on your banner year — but remind you that we usually don’t know when we’ll transfer from joy-filled to grief-stricken. Tragedy is unpredictable, and loss is often unforeseen. Be sensitive to those in your life who are going through the holidays without someone they love. Jot them a note of encouragement, just to let them know you’re thinking about them and you care. Don’t worry, you won’t ‘remind’ them of their loss; they’re quite aware of it. It will mean more to them than you can possibly know to hear that someone remembers the hole in their heart.

In practicing grace, kindness, and generosity to those who are grieving, sad, burdened or downtrodden, you will embrace the very essence of what this season is all about. You can’t keep anyone from having a ‘blue Christmas,’ but you can help it be just a shade lighter. (See what one church in Tennessee is doing to minister to those who are hurting: Click Here)


  • Are you experiencing a blue Christmas this year? If so, what suggestions can you offer for how people can help you?
  • Have you recently ministered to someone who is struggling this holiday season? How was your attempt at kindness received?

3 responses to When Holidays Hurt


    My dad is sick (getting worse) and I don’t know what Christmas will be next year. If he will still be able to walk, talk or be here.. 😦

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  1. Surviving Holiday Grief | With Sympathy Gifts - December 21, 2011

    […] When holidays hurt (garrickdconner.com) […]

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