How Losing a Parent Changes You for the Holidays.
Published: Elephant Journal
December 23, 2019
It’s your first holiday since losing a parent—and everything is the same and yet different.
You go about all of the family traditions you’ve done since you were a kid—the lights, the decorating, the shopping and baking and cooking—and it all feels flat as a batch of cookies without the baking soda.
You’re checking off your to-do list but getting no joy from any of it. You feel like you’re going through the motions, walking through sludge.
What does it all matter, with your loved one gone?
Memories await you around every corner like arrows aimed for your gut. Past holidays spent with your lost parent. Things that they said and did. Times that are gone and cannot be brought back.
Christmas carols that used to give you chills now bring tears to your eyes.
At parties you feel disconnected from the laughter and the joy, the ugly sweaters and the white elephant gifts. It all seems so shallow after what you’ve been through.
You haven’t been on Facebook for weeks. It’s too hard, seeing all the happy pictures. The political stuff, too—you don’t want it. You have no patience for drama of any kind. It all seems so stupid, so meaningless.
Death has changed you. You’ve seen it up close and personal in the suffering eyes of your loved one. You’re aware in ways you’ve never been before of the preciousness of life. How short it all is. The ticking of the clock.
You give your kids an extra hard hug, even though it embarrasses them.
You find yourself thinking about a gift you want to get for your lost parent, only to remember—another arrow to the gut—that they’re gone and you don’t need to buy them anything.
You wish you could go visit him again, sit with him, and talk as you used to, but you can’t.
It’s all so surreal, a dream you can’t wake from. How can he be gone? How is it possible? When will it feel real?
You’re aware of other people’s suffering in a way you’ve never been before. Instead of buying presents for people who really don’t need them, you want to go serve in a soup line or visit sick kids at the hospital or stuff shoe boxes for the needy.
You feel like you’re walking through life in a bubble. There’s the world out there, so bright and festive and cheerful, and the world within, so gray and joyless. People ask you how you’re doing, and you don’t know what to say.
Everything out there feels too loud and raw and painful right now. Amidst all of the hustle and bustle, the lights and carols and festivities, you feel an aching need to be alone, to go to that place of void and emptiness where your loved one now exists, in the hopes of finding him again.
You go home and take the dog for a walk. The dog at least won’t ask you how you’re doing. It’s December, overcast and cold, and the world seems dead and lifeless. It doesn’t seem possible that spring and warmth will ever come again.
But then at one point the sun breaks through the cloud cover and you feel the warmth on your cheeks. You raise your face to the sunlight and allow a smile, knowing he’s looking down on you from a better place, and that you’ll see him again someday, no longer old and suffering, but young and vital as you remember him.
It’s all you have to go on, and so you do. You go on, back to the house, back to life, intending to squeeze every drop of goodness from it before it’s gone.