How to Deal with Loss During the Holidays

It’s “that time of year,” and the pressure is on.

To look happy, to be happy, to have a happy family, to make happy memories.

To cook beautiful meals that you serve to beautiful friends and beautiful family.

To make other people happy by buying just the right thing but being smart and buying it at just the right price, which happens to be available all the way across town, of course.

But only in the middle of the night.

While supplies last.

This is the Holiday Overlay. This is the Big False Dream that is cleverly pimped and primped, simpered over, and whimpered about. We’re complicit in this story, by the way.

But that is another essay.

This essay is not about the Holiday Overlay, but the underbelly of sorrow and loss that robs many, many people of joy during this socially-mandated season of joy.

If you’ve lived into your adult years, I’m sure you can relate.

Perhaps this is one of those years in your own life when you had to face some major loss.

Or, perhaps, this is the just the season when one of your personal holiday traditions is to bring your old, festering wounds out of storage for display along with the faux garland and tinsel and bows.

Now, here’s the thing, Sweet Pea: I LOVE the holidays. I didn’t always. But I do now.

That’s because I’ve learned the secret of “doing the holidays right.”

I never pretend.

Instead, I allow myself to observe myself feeling what I think I am feeling. And, when what I think I am feeling is causing me pain, I decide to change my mind, and get a NEW STORY.

Now, my Old Story, the one that caused me a lot of pain for too many Christmas’s Past, was one of loss.

And what makes healing that story really, really tricky is that IT IS TRUE.

Well, on at least a couple of different levels it is true.

It is true, for example, that my father left when I was just the tiniest of little people. And it is true that I never got to know him.

And it is true that I spent every Holiday Season of my childhood waiting for phone calls that never came, parcels that were never delivered, and – at the core of it – an acknowledgement that I was loved and mattered that never was bestowed.

And, it IS TRUE, that many years later, just as I thought I was seeing my way to real happiness, my newborn daughter, Grace, died less than an hour after she was born prematurely.

It is true that that happened and that that made me very, very sad.

What ISN’T true is that every holiday season I need to bring that baggage out of storage and lament my laments in the most publically lamentatious (yes, I get to make up words) way possible.

This essay is about how to deal with loss during the holiday season. And my first suggestion is this:

Let Go of Your Story.

Let go of your attachment to your sorrow, even – nope, especially – if you are kinda sorta milking it to get attention and sympathy from others. (Sorry if that stings just a bit. We’re going for the bigger prize of Freedom here, and sometimes getting there is just a bit of an “ouch.”)

After you let go of your story, my second suggestion for dealing with loss at the holidays (or ANY time of year) is to mitigate your loss by making your experience useful to others.

This essay, for example, is one way that I do that. If I can help even one person relinquish her strangle-hold on her “right to be seen as being wronged,” then my own loss is mitigated.

Every time I use my own suffering to ease the suffering of others, I transmute some of my loss into goodness that radiates out into the world.

Remember, bitterness constricts. Forgiveness radiates. (click to tweet)

Finally, I mitigate my loss by INTENTIONALLY finding a way to remember those I have loved and lost in a way that brings joy to others.

Grace was my only daughter. Her three, stinky, back-talking brothers came later, and my holiday purchases are decidedly not that exciting for me. There’s no fluff or sparkle or pink or tea parties.

So, I decided to give that to myself – and one other little girl in need.

Every year, I take myself Christmas shopping (please translate to your own religious equivalent) for girly girl things and then I find a little girl in need and SECRETLY and ANONYMOUSLY give those things away.

Most of the time, I find that little girl through my sons’ former preschool.

By now, we have a routine. I always call and ask if they have a girl in need. They always do. I NEVER ask anything about her that would help me identify her. They tell me a few things about her personality and likes and such, so that I can make purchases that will make her happiest.

And then I drop the gifts off and visit with the staff who helped raise Grace’s little brothers all those years ago.

This was my 21st Christmas bringing Grace’s Christmas to some little girl who lives somewhere nearby. By now, those first girls are grown women. I imagine them out living their own beautiful lives, going to school, falling in love, making a life.

I imagine them doing all the things that Grace didn’t get to do. And I choose to feel happy that, in some small way, I may have brought one morning of hope to their little worlds.

The point of all this is this: We don’t get to choose most of what happens TO us. But we DO GET TO CHOOSE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

I hope you’ll share some of your own Best Practices for dealing with loss (thus making “your story” useful and mitigating your own loss) in the comments below.


We get to choose whether our stories limit. Or liberate. (click to tweet)

In the spirit of all that is holy this holiday season, I choose liberation. And I wish for you every joyful freedom that you are willing to embrace within your own heart.

Please, pass that joyful freedom on!

Love, Love, Love – Jennifer (Grace’s Mom)

P.S.—AFTER I wrote this piece, I realized that today is my father’s birthday. Had he not died at the age of 34, he would have been 73.   This essay is dedicated to the memory of Richard Arthur Boykin, and his only granddaughter, Grace.  Blessed.  Be.

Photo: Flickr, vramak

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to How to Deal with Loss During the Holidays

  1. Anne says:

    Exactly, exactly, exactly what I needed to hear at just this moment. And to make it through this holiday season with my sanity!

  2. Perfect – just what I needed this morning & I’m sure a lot of other post-tampon gals. Holidays can be a bitch & it really requires conscious CHOOSING to redirect our thoughts – to squeeze out and celebrate all that is going WELL in our lives. No matter what our circumstances, there are things/people to celebrate and reap joy in. Congratulations on finding ways to increase joy in others’ lives through your loss. <3, Lise

    • Jennifer says:

      Yes, it’s all a choice. Thank God someone finally pointed that out to me in a way that I could actually hear and act on!! Jen

  3. Patty says:

    What a creative, personal and beautiful way to honor both Grace and yourself! Thank you for sharing the love.
    love’n’light beautiful one,

  4. Shauntelle says:

    Thank you for this in more ways that I can express… as always, just what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. Sharing it with everyone I can!

  5. Jeanette says:

    ‘Let go of your story’- this reminder brings a joyful relief! I find that I don those old feelings, sometimes, out of habit, which does not honor or give life. You have made honoring your daughter and your feelings, an active gift to emulate. With a full heart, I thank you for this poignant post and pray that it is the balm for others that it is for me.
    You shine!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you, love. I don’t think I’ve written about my little girly girl shopping ritual before — it was too private. But this year, perhaps because I’m moving and I’ve been doing it for a whole generation now, it just felt right.

      Happy beautiful wonderful holiday, love.

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you once again for your openness, honesty and transparency. Most of all, thanks for urging us to let go of our stories that sadden us while they garner attention and sympathy. How much better to use them for good.

    You’re so wise to have found a way to make use of your loss of your beautiful Grace in a way that honors her, brings you joy and uplifts and brightens another little girl. I so much understand that pull to shop for girly girly things (that’s why Target puts those things right in front of the store.) And now you’ve done this for 21 Christmases! What a wonderful way to experience and give mothering that radiates and ripples to impact lives you’ll never know.

    Thanks for reminding us that our stories either limit or liberate. I’m so happy that I’ve grown to not participate in the group stories either that some family members like to revive every year. Instead, I exercise my right to create new stories, expand my “family” circle and dump the practices/rituals that don’t fulfill me. Yippee!

    As for the socially-mandated joy paired with the insane need to shop that causes folks to camp out on the cement on Thanksgiving instead of spending time with someone they care about, we are indeed complicit. Okay. I’ll hold my rant until you write that essay.

    Blessings to you.

    • Jennifer says:

      Flora, love. No need to write that shopping essay. I think you just about said it all. Happiest of happy holidays, love. Jen

  7. Hi…I so LOVE the idea of anonymously choosing a little girl to help in memory of your daughter. Thank you for sharing this with us in such a lovely way.

  8. Nat Cohen says:

    Once again, you have brought some inspiration to my day. I participated in a wonderful workshop with you on loss many years ago and while that helped me then, this is what I needed to hear right now. Thank you, dear Jennifer.

  9. SherriS. says:

    Again, I say I’m so glad I found your blog! Thanks for the inspiration and I just want to say – You are amazing! I want to print this and mail it to my 78 year old mother who is so bitter.

    Thank you for being you!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you, Sherri. I think one of the hardest things that I have had to deal with in life is seeing people who are close to me continue to make choices that hurt themselves and others.

      I pray for wisdom to see where I do this in my own life and, when I see myself making similar mistakes, I grow in compassion for others.


  10. Diane Standish says:

    I decided a couple years ago not to let Christmas overwhelm me. That was when my mom was in the midst of dying. I realized then what was important and the holidays haven’t stressed me since. If I don’t get decorations up, oh well, if I don’t put up a tree, oh well, if I don’t get presents for everyone I should, oh well!!! I get and do for the people I love all year long, so in a way celebrate the season all year. I would rather sit with my hubby or my girls and just enjoy being alive and in their company. I do miss the Christmas lights though when I don’t get them up-always my favorite thing to turn out all the lights but the Christmas ones!! Thanks for reminding me again to let go and grieve for my mom who isn’t with me any more and for my sister who is in Alzheimers dementia at 59, and doesn’t have reality anymore-I wish more than anything that I could bring her back to her mind to celebrate Christmas-she was the one who decorated, bought the perfect presents and was always dressed to the nines at Christmas. I miss her and hold her hand now and tell her I love her. And she smiles and sometimes says “wuv u”

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi, Diane. I’m so sorry about your sister. It’s so clear how much you miss her. Sending thoughts of peace and healing.

      Love, J

  11. Found your blog through my coach, Barrie Davenport. She was spot on recommending I follow you.

    I lost a beloved pet last month, quite unexpectedly, within minutes. I’m having a very difficult time. This post gives me something to do with the pain. Thank you.

  12. Bonnie says:

    Jennifer, you gave me an entirely new meaning to the holiday season. You are one really sage woman. Reading your blogs are the best holiday gift for this ‘post-tampon’ woman! Bless you!

  13. Ann Marie says:

    Jen, I’m one of the lucky ones that has always enjoyed the holidays. Never felt compelled to have extra gifts lying around to give to someone if they gave an unexpected gift to me. (I always said if they were moved enough to give me a gift, then their motivation couldn’t be to get one in return.) I didn’t bake until I fainted, I didn’t accept every invitation.
    But now my sister has ovarian cancer (just diagnosed the day after Thanksgiving). Surgery is this Monday. She has growths from her liver to her reproductive organs. And I’m trying to find something to hang onto. ANYTHING to hang onto.
    She has a great husband and daughter. There are 8 other siblings as well as in-laws and nieces and nephews and even all four parents. She has found a wonderful, compassionate surgeon. And I’m happy for all of this.
    But how and where do I find the “okay-ness” with this diagnosis. We’re a year apart and were very close growing up. We fought, laughed until milk came out of our noses, hated, and loved each other as kids.
    How do I do this? How?

    • Jennifer says:

      Oh, love, I’m so sorry for your suffering. I should have mentioned in the piece that all of these suggestions are “higher order” suggestions. When you are still “going through the Go Thrus,” taking your wisdom out into the larger world is just not possible.

      For the Go Thrus I recommend — EXQUISITE attention to self-care. And narrowing your circle to just the people whom you love the deepest and whom you trust the most. Care for yourself so you can help care for your sister.

      And trust yourself.


      • Ann Marie says:

        Good advice…as usual! I’m going to Pilates tomorrow and Sunday. I have arranged to meet a friend in NYC during the long wait so I can get out of the hospital for a while. And I’m hoping to find time next week for a massage.
        This is the first illness us “kids” have gone through. Guess we’re blessed it took 55 years. I’m simply praying for a good diagnosis after the surgery.
        Thanks for the suggestions. (Good luck with your move.)
        Ann Marie

  14. I love this, and I love your secret Santa girly girl shopping/gifting mission. Fun and loving and generous for you and a sweet surprise for some little girl.

    Your writing is one of your brightest gifts; thanks for continuing to give it every day.

  15. Anne Marie says:

    Jennifer, Your words are beautiful. Thank you for sharing! We do get to choose whether our stories limit. Or liberate. Why do we need to be reminded of this?? The holidays do seem bittersweet all the time for me so this is timely. Thanks for sharing your writings – always insprirational!!! Sending hugs to you and your little angel Grace:)

    And also prayers for the Ann Marie above, that her sister will recover and have a long life ahead:) Stay strong!! Anne Marie

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you so much, love.

      • Ann Marie says:

        Thanks for the good wishes Anne Marie!

        My sister came through surgery very well. All the tumors were removed and the hysterectomy was done. Even the anesthesia (always a problem in the past for her) was a non-issue. She’ll be in the hospital about a week and will probably start chemo in the new year.

        Your good thoughts are deeply appreciated!

  16. Pam says:

    I read it last year, but having lost my husband in June, I find myself reading the piece with different vision. I’m certainly no stranger to loss. I had to learn to make new holiday traditions in 1998, after my mom was murdered. With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, I’ve made zero plans. Part of that is because we decided last year it’s too much trouble on our children to do two Thanksgivings. We have 8 sons between us. My plan was to let it go, to get together on the Saturday after and have lasagna. I just can’t think about doing that. I had emergency surgery in July, about six weeks after my husband died. It’s been a tough year, and I’m taking a break. I’m going to hand the baton off to the daughters-in-law and make the rounds visiting the kids. On Christmas Day, I’m picking my single years tradition of seeing a movie. This made me bawl, though.

  17. Katie says:

    I didnt read this last year and i guess we all find it when it is our time to find it, as i sit here thinking about yet another Holiday season, I lost my grandmother 17 yrs. ago on Christmas day and my father almost a year later on Dec. 15th even though i was in my 30s it hit hard they were my rocks, my Dad was my best friend even though i didnt know it until i was a mom myself, he was both my mom and Dad, i had a mother but she was all about her, they had been divorced since i was 5. But anyway for the past 16 years i put on the happy face, but really until today didnt want to be part of Christmas again, although i do try for my 6 yr old Grandson who besides my two daughters is my whole world. Thank you for sharing your story I am going to remember that I was lucky to have had them both for as long as i did and how Happy they made the Holidays for my siblings and myself and Enjoy the holidays and make new memories

  18. My friend sent me the link to your website and this post in particular. I am so glad she did as it was just what I needed. Great post. I’m a follower now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *