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
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Mark,
    I don’t have words. Everyone’s Christmases hold memories of family & celebration but how much merrier yours must be coupled with a special birthday.
    These are landmarks that you are passing through for the first time without the guiding presence of your parents and while you’ll make it, I’m sure it seems difficult to see how.
    The only truth I know for certain Mark, is that the Lord is near. I sincerely hope that you sense a special blessing from Him, some perfect gift just for you this Christmas.

  2. Mark,
    There aren’t words. Everyone’s Christmases are filled with memories of family, but to have a birthday on such a special Eve I’m sure made your celebrations all the merrier. These are landmark days for your family, and facing that first time through them feeling unguided and alone is always going to be the worst one. Next year may only feel better because you know you’ve survived it once, but the pain of the double loss you suffered this year is staggering to me, Mark.
    The only truth I know for certain is that the Lord is near.
    My prayer is that you would see some special moments of blessing from Him this Christmas.

  3. Well written words of your heart Molly. Interesting when we are faced ourselves with what others we serve face, our perspectives are different. Cheers!

    • Jeff, it’s so true.
      I grew up around mortuaries but the death of my grandpa is what actually sparked my passion for grief ministry and my interest in this profession.
      I’m grateful for the experience, that it helps me in a small way to speak to the tremendous grief that faces all of us throughout our lives.
      Thank you for the kind words & for reading, Merry Christmas Jeff!

  4. Anne says:

    Everyone says I am courageous and strong, and I guess I am, but this first Christmas, I just want Lou back to take care of me, to take care of things. There’s a song that says Please come home for Christmas, and if not for Christmas, then by New Year’s Eve. Every time I hear it, I put out my foolish wish for it to be so, which is not what will be. I know I will get over this, too. I will eventually get my joy back. It comes from focusing on others and their needs and I know I will get back to that in time. My daughter and grandkids are wonderful. My friends are great. My church is full of supportive people. My pastor and his wife are dear. I actually have a lot to be thankful for. But then the impossible desires won’t stay squashed down, so what do you do??

    • Anne,
      That last question is one I just don’t have an answer for. I guess you just want them, and keep wanting them. You loved him so much and couldn’t stop loving him so how could you stop missing him – you just can’t.
      You have been so present in my mind as this holiday has approached. I’m praying for you, that the day might hold unexpected surprises, little joys that God brings just for you. I trust He will, and I hope that it brings some of the joy we have in Christ to you this Christmas.
      Love you so much Anne, Merry Christmas to you.

  5. Becky Finch Lomaka says:

    Ok – let me wipe the tears away as I try to write to you, Molly. I weep for my brother, whose death has left his children in so much pain and has left my parents with holes in their hearts that can never be repaired. I weep for my colleagues who have lost a spouse, siblings, parents and grandparents. I weep for my friends, the Strales, who lost their dear boy to cancer this year. I weep for the families we serve.

    It is not fair, it is not right, it just IS. Our lives will never be the same, but we still rise every morning and we go on the best we can. We live our lives, we love those still here with us and we try to keep our loved ones’ memories alive. But we grieve and we cry and we miss them dearly – and that is ok too.

    • Amen Becky. What more can we do but try, make our best effort, and find ways to preserve their memories so that we don’t lose focus in the chaos of life’s insignificant details.

      My prayers go out to you this Christmas, to your dear family who is suffering so unjustly from a death that seems so senseless and cruel. I think of the Strale’s, too. Of that unimaginable pain that they share with your parents in the loss of a child. What more can we do but talk about it, listen, cry, remember, release & breathe.

      I don’t know how this Christmas will be for you, I know just by your spirit that there will be lots of smiling & joy but in the hard parts & moments of the day I hope you feel free to remember.

      Merry Christmas, Becky.

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