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Grief at Christmas: When Adopting New Traditions Doesn’t Work

They told me to find new traditions to survive Christmas with a broken heart. It was on all the lists. As I face the 10th year without a living parent, however, I still haven’t found stability.

I still can’t get the Christmases I once had out of my head. I still haven’t found a routine that fills a sad, black hole that I cannot escape.


My uncle, aunt, their daughter-in-law and son (my cousins) and my dad encircle me at Christmas. My mother is apparently behind the camera.

Have you found traditions and routines yet that calm that yearning for Christmas past? Or are you still looking?

My expectations always do me in. People just won’t do what I want them to do. (Insert chuckle here.) Communication gaps. Conflicting plans. Unnecessary drama. My hopes and plans for a blissful Christmas of ease dissolve in the wake these obstacles.

My emotions don’t do what I want them to, either. They fluctuate each Christmas. I once wrote that each Christmas gets better and better after the loss of a loved one. That’s what I’d experienced – until I didn’t. It was then I realized grief storms come when they wish.

Especially at Christmas. The holiday is full of triggers. One of my primary ones is music. Sad nostalgia rides on sound waves. No, I’m sorry. I cannot go Home for Christmas.

That is the rub this year for me. For nine previous Christmases, I’d go over to my parents’ empty home, go through their things and play their Christmas records. Now I can’t. I sold the house in the spring. My refuge is gone. My new normal, my new tradition, is out of reach.

So, you might be asking at this point, what’s a broken heart to do when our new normal is shaken, or as we yearn for the old normal?

I feel like a child kneeling in front of a broken toy, picking up pieces to see if I can put the beloved plaything back together. Is that my answer? To clutch at the pieces and make what I can out of them?


My parents faithful packed my stocking at Christmas. Now I ask my hubby to fill it. Sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t. But he’s always agreeable to making Christmas special together.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve got all the answers. But this is what I’m doing – I put up the tree, again using lots of my parents’ ornaments. I stare at them at night before I leave the room for bed. I listen to the Christmas songs on the radio and sometimes I sing along as my mind replays my mother’s voice, word for word. I mailed Christmas cards to a whole bunch of people, following the tradition my father followed. And again, I’ll meet with my best friend and her family for a Christmas feast and the transaction of the gifts.

And that’s all great. But I also wonder if by forever losing the Christmas I loved – the certainty and security of being with my parents, around a tree at their home – that I’ve gained the opportunity for a real Christmas. I mean, isn’t Christmas about “God with us” (Matt. 1:23), Immanuel, Jesus? Not me with my parents. Not my parents with me. But God with us – with me.

As I grow older, I see that aging and loss in a fallen world is a process that pulls us away from the “here” so that we may yearn for something eternal. Or, better said, someone eternal.

Perhaps the traditions I’ll end up embracing and maintaining will be more internal than external. More spiritual than material. More Christ than Christmas.

What are your thoughts on new traditions and surviving Christmas? Have you found satisfaction in new routines or are you still looking?


Copyright © 2018 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.


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