Let's Talk about the Holidays

Joanna ZuidemaComment

It’s been ingrained in us that the holidays are for celebrating and spending time with those we love most (that and a hearty dose of home cooking and gift giving).

But what if they’re gone?

What if the child you were so thankful to be pregnant with last year, the one who received all the gifts before she was even born, isn’t here to celebrate her first Christmas?

What if the head of the holidays in your house isn’t able to unpack the decorations, hand-make the yearly gift ornaments, and settle into her role as #1 gift-giver?

What if the picturesque family scene plastered everywhere you look is just another jarring reminder that yours is missing some key characters?

What if, instead of your holiday season being filled with joyful firsts, it’s filled with lasts?

Our best case scenario involves these holidays being Mom’s last and Norah still being gone.

Our worst case scenario involves both Mom and Norah missing from the family picture.

Pretending that this season is the same as any other year would be blatantly disregarding reality.

So how, then, do we enter this holiday season?

With grace.

Grief changes the holiday experience. The sooner we acknowledge grief’s presence, the sooner we stop pretending everything will be fine, the easier it will be.

(Side note – although this will be our first grief-filled holiday season, prior experience is not necessary to know that it will be… well, a whole thing.)

The tighter we hold to what we think the holidays after loss should be, the more we strive to fit our reality into some preconceived box formed by advertising, Instagram, or anyone outside of our grief, the more we set ourselves up for disaster.

Our goal this year is to simply approach it with grace.

We choose to have grace for ourselves as we navigate what our hurting hearts can handle this year; as we allow this season to be whatever it needs to be. As we try new things or say no to traditions. As we gather with others or give ourselves space. As we do it all or simply sit this one out.

We choose to have grace for others as we help them come alongside us in our grief; as we help them understand the heart of our decisions, and as we navigate awkward conversations — discerning when to teach and when to walk away.


Q: “So, what are you going to do for ____ (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years...)?”

A: Whatever we need to do to survive.

We don’t know what this holiday season will look like. From a logistical standpoint, cancer and plans are like oil and water.

Maybe this season will include doing all the family things.

Maybe it will mean totally opting out, ordering pizza and binge watching something on Netflix. (Stranger Things, anyone?)

Maybe it will mean leaving gatherings early.

Maybe it will involve giving back.

Maybe it will include time away somewhere beautiful, completely disconnected from everything and everyone while surrounded by eachother, nature, Norah, and God.

Whatever our holidays end up being, there will still be hope. There will still be gratitude. There will still be joy.

Our way of finding them will just look a little different this time. 

Friends, if you have someone in your life that is grieving this holiday season, my advice for you is the same – give them grace. Let them guide you in what they need this season. Acknowledge that this is hard for them. Listen and hold space for their pain.

Above all, don’t be afraid to talk about their loved one.

“They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived. And that is a great gift.” – Elizabeth Edwards