Three Lessons for Grieving During the Holidays

Since I lost my mom this past August, I turned to Jesus countless times in prayer to ask Him how I should deal with grief, especially in the holidays. Here are a few resolutions I have made to help.

The Resolutions

First, remember what matters. I remember when I would throw a tantrum if any tiny detail about our family’s Christmas tradition was altered. The tree had to go in a certain room, we had to have poppers on our plates, midnight Mass was the only option, and Heaven help us if we ever didn’t have mini wieners as an hors d’oeuvres!

Family traditions are a wonderful thing to hold on to, but the key thing to remember is family. Hold on to as many traditions as possible, because they truly are special, but be willing to let some of them go. Be positive and open this year to trying something new, perhaps even starting new traditions.

Remember that you are entering into a new time without the person you lost but with everyone you still have. Embrace life, the holidays, and forming new family traditions together.

Second, drink only for camaraderie, never escape, and only in moderation. This is a subject perhaps only some will relate to, but it is something I know I have learned. Drinking for escape is a habit that can be entered into lightly, but have such negative consequences. So often I’ve gone to an event thinking “booze will make it more bearable.” Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Using alcohol as a means to pass time or “make things more fun” backfires. That leads to periodic memory loss (you want to remember your family parties), temperamental behavior (fighting with people is generally frowned upon), and a day often finished off with a full serving of hot regret (I for one would prefer to live my life with no regrets).

Here is my suggestion. Alcohol is an occasion to share with others in camaraderie and toast companionship. Use it as an occasion to show that brother the new beer from a brewery that just opened in your town, or to bring your dad a nice bottle of wine he would never buy for himself.

Celebrate the birth of our Savior, ring in the New Year! But do it wisely. Make memories you don’t want to regret.

Third, and most important, take any opportunity to help someone else this Christmas. During my college days, I developed some moderate depression with periodic anxiety attacks. It even got to the point where I had to take a semester off from school. During that difficult time my mom told me something I will never forget. I even had her words written on a post-it that I kept next to my bed in my dorm room. She said, “Whenever you feel sad, go find someone to help.”

She said that we all have things that make us sad, scared, or depressed. Don’t dwell on those things. Take your suffering and put it to good use by serving others. It’s the only way to give our suffering purpose and meaning.

That advice from my mom has stayed with me. She lived every day of her life helping others. I hope to always follow her advice and mimic her in any way I can. It doesn’t matter how big or small the act is: volunteering at your parish, helping someone load groceries, visiting a friend who also may be suffering a personal tragedy; helping someone else will help to get outside of personal grief by turning towards others with love.

The Long Road of Grief

Have all of my anxieties about Christmas gone away? Not exactly. I still have my moments. But I know now that there are certain things you just shouldn’t be anxious about. I have so many blessings in my life.

And what is the only thing that worrying will do? It might make you miss out on something you’ll never want to. Grief is a long road with lots of bad turns. But there are good times out there still. The holidays are a time to create the good times. Fill the holidays with love, hope, joy, prayer, and plenty of the good memories you shared with the ones you have lost, because they are still alive.


See her previous article “How Can Anyone Be Happy on Christmas?” for her reflection on grief.

Catherine Hieronymus teaches at the Trivium School in Lancaster, Massachusetts. “Three Lessons” is a shorter version of a story that appeared on Catholic Exchange and is used here with permission.

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