Christmas Traditions by Default

????????????????????For people in my “grief age,” those who are coming up on the third anniversary of grief, this Christmas wasn’t as hard as the previous two. All firsts are hard but that first Christmas was doubly painful because we were still steeped in new grief. The second Christmas was hard because we were reminded once again that we are without the one person who connected us to the world and to our traditions, and it set off an upsurge of grief. This year was difficult in yet another way — not as sad as the first two, perhaps, but more bewildering. Our loved ones have been gone a long time, and life is starting to close the gap where they were ripped from our lives.

It doesn’t seem possible that life can go on without them. It doesn’t seem possible that we can go on without them. And yet, here we are. Another Christmas without.

My upsurges of grief the first two years took me by surprise. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the holiday to affect me, and yet the day itself creates traditions even in those who don’t celebrate it. We couldn’t treat it like any other day because it’s a day out of the normal routine for most people in this country —- no mail deliveries, no businesses operating, few stores open. We usually spent the day just lounging around, watching our favorite movies, and eating finger foods (meat, cheese, fruit slices) — creating a tradition by default.

Yesterday, my grief was momentary and had nothing to do with Christmas, just one of those normal touches of sadness that I have come to accept as homage to him and our life together. I no longer feed my grief by holding tightly to thoughts of him. Such reminiscences don’t make me feel connected to him, don’t make me feel better about his being gone, so when the inevitable thoughts flow through my mind, creating sadness and bringing on tears, I let them pass. I used to worry that if I didn’t hold on to those thoughts that I was somehow negating him. If he only exists in memory, and I don’t remember him, then he is truly gone.

But he is gone from this earth whether I remember him or not. He is gone from my life whether I remember him or not. Nothing I do or think can ever change that. I still miss him. Always will. But as with yesterday, my missing him probably won’t have anything to do with Christmas memories or traditions, not even the tradition we created by default.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

5 Responses to “Christmas Traditions by Default”

  1. Carol Says:

    Traditions are strange things. We create them by doing or not doing, and that repetition becomes the tradition. I hope on those special days you’ll find you’re creating different traditions now, not to replace the memories of how you spent them in past years, but to add to them.

    Wishing you an uplifted spirit and renewed hope as you continue to move into your future.

  2. Holly Bonville Says:

    This year I got up the courage to say no to my usual Christmas dinner invitation. What I wanted to do, what Jake and I used to do, is stay home, have a lazy day, not get dressed and just generally do nothing. The past three years, I went to a friend’s house for dinner, didn’t really enjoy myself, and it just made the holiday more difficult. So, even if feelings were hurt, I said no thank you to the invitation and stayed in, in my jammies, watched movies, had a good meal and reflected. It was exactly what I wanted to do with my day, and I am glad I did. I had my moments, but I didn’t stress too much about being alone. It was nice. This was my third Christmas without him, and yes, it was easier. I did exactly what we would have done if he had been here, and I feel that I honored him in my own way.

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