Handling The Holidays After The Death of a Loved One

January 4, 2015 — 4 Comments

My dad passed on November 17th, which meant that the holidays would be hard. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years would all be different this year. I’m still undecided if it’s just mean that they’re all so close together.

Or if it’s a blessing in disguise, to get them all out of the way.

This post is not prescriptive in nature, but rather my continuing experience through grief and into healing. I share it because we’re a community and it’s good to take care of each other. Thank you for continuing to care for me and I hope this is helpful for you, too.

Right off the top, I’m going to say this: I think next year is going to be more difficult. Maybe that’s naive, given it’ll have been a year, but I honestly still feel too close to everything to experience the whole weight of the change. Maybe I’m still in shock. Likely.

The holiday activities themselves went well, I thought. My son was sick on Christmas Eve, which stunk, but he got better quickly. And I’ve been sick for a week, which made New Years lame, but those things could (and often do) happen any year. As far as the actual functions themselves, I didn’t know quite what to expect, but they went as planned. My guess is that we were all just trying to get through them with some semblance of normalcy. We didn’t do any tributes. There was no crying (during the activities). There were lots of hugs and knowing smiles, though. It was good to be together.

My wife would say this has been too analytical so far, but that’s one way I deal with things. So, to her point, here are somethings that were hard. I missed him at the table at Thanksgiving when we held hands and said grace. I missed him laughing at the funny things my kids kept saying. I felt bad for my brother who cut-up the ham because my dad should have been doing that. I missed him at the Christmas Eve service where his wife, my step-mom, sang in the choir. He should have been there holding a candle and singing Silent Night and remembering Grandpa and Grandma like we’ve done in the past. I missed him when I saw his name in the program next to “Poinsettias in memory of…” I was upset when I noticed his name missing from all the presents. My heart broke for Donna who had to do it all herself. I can’t imagine writing “Love, Donna” all those many times, each one reminding her of his absence. It’s not fair. I missed him helping my kids put their toys together.

On the 27th, the extended Haack family had our family Christmas together. We’ve always had it at Lakeview Park, one of my dad’s shelters he tended for work. This year we changed the day and location and my dad was really nervous about it. He thought people would be upset. I told him as long as we were all together, who cares where or when it is? Every year my family has me pray for dinner and as I thought about it on the 26th this year, I lost it. I was thinking, “Should I say anything about him during the prayer? Are we all going to be crying? Should I just do it as usual?” And then I just screamed. “YOU SHOULD BE HERE! I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS!” But that’s reality now. I got it out and moved forward. And the prayer was fine. The food was better.

Ultimately, the holidays this year for me continued to be an extension of the roller coaster of emotions that is my life right now. Julie and I got the kids things they loved and were excited about. We enjoyed our time with family and laughed a lot. And in the quiet, by myself, I missed dad. Not all the time, but a good amount. And I imagine this is what it will be like every year from here on out. Trying to focus more and more on those who are here: my wife and kids and family and friends. Meanwhile, remembering and missing dad.

This thought hit me today, too: While Death is relentless and its sting powerful and debilitating, the holiday season brings us Hope and in the long run, Hope wins.

Hope always wins.

Please feel free to share your experience below. Your experience of grief and healing is so valuable!

Ryan

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I’m a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend…all kinds of things, actually.

4 responses to Handling The Holidays After The Death of a Loved One

  1. Robert Grahmann January 9, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    great article, Ryan. I would handle things intellectually before emotionally also. Dad Grahmann

  2. Thank you for sharing, Ryan, love reading your blog. It’s hopeful.

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