Strong emotional content alert. Yes, I know – what a sad topic. The fact is death doesn’t respect the holidays and there has been a recent flurry on social media about how losing a loved one during the holidays is particularly cruel. For many years, I didn’t understand why my first husband’s mother made such a big deal out of Christmas. There were gifts all over, to include those from the family pets. She would take obvious pleasure in picking out gifts for every person and just as obviously go to a great deal of trouble in making the selections. (I still use the wonderful leather attache she gave me years ago for my travel computer.) I don’t recall exactly when I learned this; I knew she’d had only one sibling, a younger brother who’d died as a child. As it turns out, he’d contracted scarlet fever (or something like that) and died not long before Christmas. Part of her father’s reaction to the tragedy was to declare there would never be another Christmas celebration in the household and apparently he refused to yield from that position. All she could do was wait and make her adult Christmases as enjoyable as possible.
The closer a loved one’s death is to a holiday, the more difficult it is to separate the loss from what is a time of celebration. If the individual is quite aged and the death not unexpected, it can be a bit easier and the regular holiday can become instead a type of memorial. When it is sudden with little or no warning, the emotional blow is intensified; at times to the point of devastation. For those who have been through this, there is almost always an equal measure of anger, of raging against the unfairness. At the time, the inability/unwillingness for any kind of traditional celebration is a common response. How future holidays are handled is another matter; one which can bring people together or have a lasting and perhaps unintended impact.