Our eighth Christmas as bereaved parents. This is what I have learned.

The week before Christmas is one of the hardest weeks of the year. My heart waits for that back door to open and have Justin walk in, home for Christmas. That will never happen again and I need to extend every kindness to my heart. I am learning to co-exist with longing and sorrow.

December 22, 23, 24, and 25 are days of tears and tremendous vulnerability. If you are going to stir a bereaved parent’s life, pick any other day of the year. If you screw with them on those days, then don’t be surprised by their reaction. By all that is holy, be kind to people and their suffering.

Questions like “are you ready for Christmas” are triggers, they create a cascade reaction in my body, my muscles tense, and I lose focus. This year I had to fence with multiple questions from strangers about what we were doing for the holidays and who would we see, I start to shut down with too many questions. I learned that I need to create a safe sanctuary for myself the week before Christmas.

I learned that in 2018 I will not schedule any major medical appointments the last two weeks of December. This year I did not have a choice and December was filled with medical appointments as I am experiencing a major event in my body that cannot be ignored. But in 2018 I will be mindful of the calendar and give myself those two weeks free of appointments.

I will remind myself in 2018 that there is respite on December 26th. The day after Christmas brings relief.

Our Tree. I love the two sets of canine ears. Dogs are great.

We had a tree this year, first one in 6 years. The first two years we were bullied into having trees by well meaning people. I could not wait to drag them out of the house as soon as possible. I love our tree this year. I told Doug I wanted an obnoxiously huge real tree. We have no furniture in the living room, so we got an obnoxiously huge real tree. Doug brought down the Christmas boxes and I went through them. I even hung some ornaments on the tree. Our grief, our way. Our time frame.


This year brought us a Christmas Eve visit with our surviving son that was a perfect treasure. We stood in his house, admiring the grain of the oak cabinets that he has stripped free of ugly dingy paint. We gazed at the colors of paint he is using to bring the walls of their house to life. There was no tree, no holiday carols, no trinkets or trappings, but there was a holiness and sanctity that could never be orchestrated or purchased. There was peace and laughter, and the sheer energy that comes from being with someone who is creating something new.

I do not try to grasp at the days, but let them run like water over my skin, allowing the days to unfold, to appreciate the day for itself and not how it is in relationship to the Christmas countdown. If it is four days before Christmas, or two days before Christmas, then I am not in the moment. I want to be present to the moment, for the moment’s sake, for the sake of peace, and calm.

Flipping my calendar to December 2018, I make little notes in the margin, reminders to make room for my grief in special ways. Grief not as an enemy, but as a companion, a companion to be cared for with mercy and tenderness.

Christmas is best with no expectations. I think the greatest gift we can give each other is releasing the burden of expectations at holidays.

May 2018 bring you moments of great mercy and tender moments for wherever it hurts.


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8 thoughts on “The Eighth Day of Christmas: Lessons Learned

  1. Another beautifully expressed piece. I take from this not to push or force feelings, but to let them come and go as they please, and to know that they will come and go. xoxo.

    • Thank you Susan for the gift of your time to read and write, I know you have a busy household! Yes, let the feelings come and go. I started to meditate with Headspace a few days before Christmas and it has been enlightening about thoughts and feelings. They are as natural as breathing. Wishing you much peace this winter season as we wait for spring.

  2. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH for your writings and sharing. It was our 6th Christmas without my son, Michael. I was actually sick to my stomach the weekend before Christmas. The grief was that raw and affected me physically. I put my mind and energy into helping other’s and removing myself… from myself. For me, in that moment and time, it helped. We couldn’t wait for it to be over and have that weight lifted from our shoulder’s. I agree with what you described that we have to do what’s best for us in the moment and we need to extra gentle.

    • Dear Dawn, that nausea is haunting, our guts are so in tune with our grief. I know what you mean about removing yourself, from yourself. Yes! If I can get outside of myself, there is some respite. Thank you for walking on this journey with me. Remembering your Michael with you, thank you for sharing him with me.

  3. Thank you for this post. We are in our second year of holidays, and they have been more difficult than the first. I found myself brutally ill on Kaia’s birthday, much worse than I was on Trevor’s. I wasn’t prepared for that at all. Her 7th birthday was 16 days after what would have been Trevor’s 22nd. I was hit again just before, and through, Thanksgiving…with an outbreak of shingles. My body can’t handle this grief, and some days I feel as if I am literally falling apart. I’m still struggling to find my way through. Thank you for sharing your heart Terri.

    • Dear Colleena, our bodies bear the brunt of the unrelenting weight of grief, do they not. The year of seconds wrings our bodies dry of any reserve we had left after the first year. My heart is with you as you make your way through these days. I was nauseous for two years, I always had a bag of dry pretzels to settle my stomach. My mind has been much focused on the event that has happened to my body, and I can draw correlations between the weight of these past seven years and how my body simply has had enough. As women, we are asked to bear so much with our bodies. I am asking it what it needs, how can I best serve it so it can find some restoration.
      You are in my thoughts as you start a new year, be good to you. Thank you for the gift of your time to read and correspond.

  4. Terri,

    Again and again, you do such a service with your words. Thank you for teaching us different ways to be with grieving people, including ourselves. Thank you for illustrating what offhand comments from others can feel like, especially around the holidays. You so beautifully express the truth of life after devastating loss, and your commitment to seeing to your needs with careful scheduling in 2018 is such a tender reminder for all of us. May we handle ourselves and each other with care.

    • Dear Melinda, thank you again for the gift of your time to read and correspond. I know your days are full and your time precious. Thank you for your supportive and encouraging words. May 2018 be a year of tender care for ourselves and for those around us. Wishing you a gentle winter of restoration as we wait for signs of spring and new life. Much love to you and your house.

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