My Grandpa Died Yesterday: When Christmas is a Blur

My Grandpa Died Yesterday: When Christmas is a Blur

Some of us have been dreading Christmas this year.

Seeing the happy commercials on television, hearing people talk about holiday parties and gift shopping has felt empty and foreign. It’s as though the world is spinning around you as you stand still.

There’s the temptation and perhaps the need to put on a face as you see certain people or go to different events, but nothing can budge the grief you are feeling or the dread as Christmas stands immovable, like some strange monument, to remind you, as if you could forget, that you’re without your loved one this year.

I remember the Christmas that spun around me without my participation. My grandpa had been dying of cancer for months, chemotherapy treatments, emergency brain surgery, and marijuana pills for the pain had all led to the night of December 22nd when, with my grandma, aunts & parents, we sat around grandpa’s hospital bed at home and talked about Christmases from the past. I massaged his head, he couldn’t speak, open his eyes, or communicate with us but there was still that sense of him hearing what we said. It was a wonderful night.

We went home late, I was getting ready for bed just after midnight when my dad got the call that my grandpa had died. My grandpa had waited. He listened to all our stories, enjoyed that last night with us, and after we left and my aunts & grandma were in bed, he passed away while Silent Night played softly.

“All is calm, all is bright.”

Photo Courtesy of ©

Photo Courtesy of ©

It didn’t feel that way. It doesn’t feel that way 7 years later. I felt so guilty last year when I realized that I had gone 6 years without seeing my grandpa and that I was “ok” – how could I be ok without him for 6 years? While the truth is that I’ve made it 7 years now without him, and live a healthy and normal life, I am not “over” my loss of him. I cry every Christmas and other times besides when I think of him and horror of the cancer and the beauty of his last night.

Here’s what I want you to know as someone grieving during the holidays:

– This Christmas is going to be really hard. There is nothing that is going to take away how much you miss someone, how much you want them home with you for Christmas. Nothing can fix that and yet SO many people will tell you that there is a fix; that time, love, or family will fix it – they’re wrong. This is going to be hard, and I want you to know that I’m so sorry that it is.

– Say “No” to guilt. If you want to be around people on Christmas but feel guilty, say no to the guilt. If you want to be alone or want to have a few hours in the morning of remembering & crying, do that.

Photo Courtesy of ©

Photo Courtesy of ©

– Create or Honor a Tradition. If your loved one had something special that they did for the holidays, do it to honor them. If you always went and saw a movie on Christmas Eve, do it and maybe save them a seat. If they loved eggnog, have an eggnog toast in their honor.

This year, to honor my grandfather, I wrote this blog. What could you do?

– Reach out to others missing your loved one. It’s never you alone that’s sad, although your loss is unique, there are others missing your loved one as well. If you acknowledge it together, it’s a good thing. So do something that commemorates your loved one and allows your family and friends who are also mourning to join you.

If you are experiencing this holiday season with that empty chair, remember that it’s ok to focus on the empty chair. Don’t let guilt cloud your mind, be honest with yourself about how you are feeling, about what you need, and about the dread or discomfort you may feel at Christmas this year.

Please know that you are in our hearts this Christmas, that we care about you and we want your grief to be acknowledged for the significant pain and journey that it is.

We also want to honor your loved one. If you would please tell us about who you are missing this Christmas, we’d love to know about them. It doesn’t matter if they passed away this year or 20 years ago, they were special and wonderful and we’d love to hear their story.

Empty chair on the beach

Photo Courtesy of ©

In Memory of James E. Turner

June 28, 1932 – December 23, 2006

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.


  1. Fitz says:

    Very touching blog. Holidays and anniversaries are always the hardest. You will never get over the loss of your grandpa but you will get through it. With each year, you will look back on the fondest of memories of him. Keep those alive.
    For me, the holidays are always tough not having my mother with our family. She died at the age of 51. I remember thinking at the time of her death (I was 22 at the time) that she had lived a full life. What a perspective! Having turned 51 this year, I have a different perspective and appreciation for her and my own life.
    Thanks for sharing and God Bless,

    • Fitz,
      Wow, what a perspective changer. Dying at 51 doesn’t mean your life wasn’t rich and meaningful, but I’m sure now being 51 you are seeing with opened eyes the joys she didn’t get to see. Grief re-surges like this and the loss continues to get deeper and bigger as more time passes.

      I would have loved to have met your mom, she had to be hilarious and so sweet to have raised someone like you.

      Thanks for sharing Fitz, Merry Christmas to you.

  2. Jeff Turner says:


    We lived that Christmas together and yet in some ways separately. I say that only because our relationship was different. Your grandpa, my father. I remember arriving back at his bedside some moments after midnight and it was clear to my eyes that he had slipped off the “tent” and had moved on. He was an adventurer to say the least and I have thought many times of the line from “Peter Pan” when Peter says, “To die would be such a great adventure.” Grandpa loved life and family and I know it was hard for him to go. Spending that last evening with him was poignant permission for him to move on to the next great journey.

    Our team from O’Connor came to transfer Dad to the mortuary and I followed to spend silent hours embalming him in the deep of that night. I arrived back home before the sunrise and fell into restless sleep. Everything had changed. Life was suddenly different. Later that morning I drove my sisters and my mother to the beach. We went there instinctively as so much of our lives had been spent sailing the very same ocean we longed to see. It was the first activity we would do as a family of four. The sense that he was missing was palpable. The idea that we were now facing life without him was un-scaleable. Christmas eve and Christmas day that year were an absolute blur. I see the pictures from those days and recall the fog and dazed malaise of those times.

    Seven years and it still hurts. At our Holiday Memorial Service Garrett Erickson shared the sentiment that “grief is the price we pay for having loved.” It is wholly true. The alternative would be sociopathic. I choose to grieve. To sit in it a little while and not try to move on to the next task too quickly. One of the detriments of our society is the lost art of pausing, reflecting and taking stock of what is truly important.

    Even so, Happy Christmas. It was Dad’s… Grandpa’s favorite holiday. He left a couple of days early so that we might take pause, sit in the sadness of loss so that we value our connectedness while we have it.

    • Dad, so beautifully said. I didn’t know that you went to the beach after but I love that you did.
      I was listening to that Manheim Steamroller version of Silent Night while I wrote this and remembered mom telling me when I was a kid how she had always imagined her dad’s spirit leaving him in the sound of the wind. I think the same thing when I hear it but think of Grandpa Turner now, too. Wind carried him all around the world on adventure, but the winds also bring change and with change of any kind, there is grief.

      I love what you wrote, getting insight into your experience, I still say you should write yourself on here. Love you Dad.

      Merry Christmas

  3. Lori says:

    As I read your tribute to your Grandpa, I was especially touched by your last evening together. I hear this from so many families that their loved one held on for that last special moment. It’s a beautiful gift from God that, in cases like this, families are given that time of closure…of saying “Goodbye” as a family.
    This year has hit me hard and I am missing many…those I had in my life and grieving what I thought Christmas would look like for me by this stage of my life and it hasn’t turned out as planned.
    Even in times of being alone and feeling sad, I know who holds the plan for my life and I know I will reunite with many of those I am missing today….
    Merry Christmas to you and your family……

    • Lori, I’m so sorry you’re facing a Christmas that is without so many but also not meeting the expectations you had for yourself. I know your faith holds you in peace but that doesn’t take away the pain of disappointment and loss.
      Thank you for sharing that this isn’t the most “joy-filled” of Christmases, I think it helps so many people to know that the dream we all chase of a “perfect Christmas” is elusive, and you know what, it’s also not what Christmas is. Christ came just as we are, helpless and small, he sees your heart Lori, He’s near.

      Merry Christmas my dear friend.

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