Life Changes in an Instant: When We Are Faced With the Possibility of Losing a Loved One During the Holidays

The first day of Autumn has come and gone. Years of experience tells me that it is a downhill slide into the holiday season. The time of hustle and bustle has arrived.
The streets, malls and restaurants will all be filled to capacity. It is the season of memories and family traditions and for some, a season of loss.

This is the time of year when I long for my childhood. The holidays were easy and carefree back then. My biggest concern was whether or not Santa Claus would remember exactly which doll or bicycle I wanted. I knew I would be with my family for every single holiday.
Adulthood can take away much of the innocence and joy of the season. Family dynamics enter the picture and all of a sudden time with family has to be scheduled carefully as not to hurt feelings. There are also work schedules to be considered that remove the freedom of travel or long visits out of state. What used to be an exciting time of year becomes the season of scheduling nightmares.

For many years my tradition has been to spend Thanksgiving with my “Granny” and Christmas with my mom, Step-dad, aunt, cousins and step-family in Nevada.
This worked well up until a few years ago when my work schedule and the cost of boarding two dogs interfered with Christmas travel plans. We again have had to make scheduling adjustments. Christmas is now celebrated earlier in December and typically with just my mom and Step-dad. Fortunately, I have wonderful friends who include me in their holiday traditions so I am not alone at Christmas.

This year it is my Thanksgiving plans that will look much different. My grandmother has lived at The Wellington, an assisted living community, for the last thirteen years. She has lived independently in her own apartment, taken care of herself and walked with only the aide of a cane. We have enjoyed many delicious Thanksgiving meals at The Wellington sitting with the same group of ladies and their families each year. It has become our tradition.

On September 19, 2012, I received the type of call I have always been dreading. My grandmother had fallen in her bathroom and was being taken by ambulance to Mission Hospital. The four hours in the emergency room were an emotional roller coaster. I have never seen my grandmother sick and now I was hearing her yell out in pain. First I was told she would need surgery for a hip fracture. You can imagine how frightening the thought of a ninety-eight year old, ninety-four pound woman undergoing surgery was to me.

Once given the “good” news that she had pelvic fractures that would not require surgery, I thought this would not be too bad. The next day they got her up and sitting in a chair and she was nicknamed “Wonder Woman” by the physical therapy team. It runs in my grandmother’s family to bounce back from illness or injury so my mindset was extremely positive. I thought after a few weeks in The Covington’s Rehabilitation Facility she would be ready to return to her apartment with a caregiver.

I’ve spent countless hours with my “Granny” over the last two weeks since her fall. It is horrifying to see how much a traumatic fall can change an elderly individual. I have seen her in a heightened state of confusion. I have seen her angry. I have seen a more loving side towards me than I have in years. I have seen her grow very tired.  I never know what I am going to walk in and find.

And so I enter this holiday season with much bigger concerns than scheduling. I am prepared for whatever God has planned for my grandmother.
I trust Him with her healing and will make the necessary arrangements for the full-time caregivers she will now be unable to live without.
Though it brings tears just writing it, I trust Him if his decision is to take her home to heaven.  It is selfish of me to want to hold on to her longer if she can live out eternity with her mind and body restored.

Many of my dearest friends have lost loved ones around the holidays and I know that these feelings of pain and sentimentality are by no means unique to my situation.

Perhaps you’ve walked in these shoes, if you have you can probably relate to the list below.

These are just a few of the emotions that have hit me at any given moment over the last couple of weeks.

FEAR– This fear is mostly of the unknown.  Will Granny get to go back to her apartment? What will her quality of life be?

ANGER– I have had days where anger comes out towards my father for choosing to take his life when I was a child.  These decisions pertaining to my grandmother should be ours to share.

LOSS OF IDENTITY– I have cared for my grandmother since I was old enough to drive.  She has been such a major part of my life during good times and bad.  I thought I would be relieved when this day came, but it is quite the opposite.

GUILT– Why didn’t I spend this much time with her before she was hurt?  All she wanted was time and I was busy with work and living my life.

SADNESS– That she is only able to tell me how much she loves me through the staff.  I hear how much she brags about me when I am not there.  She tells the nurses how much I love her but these are not conversations that she will have with me directly.

As I mentioned in my post on Depression, I am not seeking sympathy by sharing my life experiences.  I know many people have gone through or are currently going through what I am.  My goal is to create a forum where we can share our stories and support others.

Have you lost an important family member during the holiday season?

How did that loss change your holiday traditions?

How do you continue to honor that person each year?

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 says:

    Lori….Thanks for sharing with us about the journey you are on….I heard Pastor Rick say one time that is not our actions but our reactions that matter….your reaction was admirable….keep up the good attitude….Mark

    • Lori says:

      I appreciate having you being there when I need to talk. I wouldn’t change our friendship for anything. It has been an interesting year of twists and turns for both of us. It helps knowing I have people like you that will be there when she goes and I fall apart.

      The best brother I never had and never wanted!!!!!!

  2. Lori,

    Thank you for pouring out your heart for the rest of us. Yes many have walked the walk but not many have the courage to open up and talk about it. I’m sure your story will help others that feel like their journey is a solo one. The holidays can bring on so many emotions, it is always good to share them and release. I know it is tough when we do not get the feedback wanted from a particular relationship, we all want it and need it. However know that you are doing your all and sharing your love without limits, that is what counts and hopefully you feel that deep in your heart.

    • Lori says:


      I am feeling it deep in my heart. Even if she is not fully present mentally, she feels my hand holding hers and my cheek against her cheek. She has never been very affectionate, however, she seems to be eating up the attention now.
      Your family is very lucky because I am certain they know how much you love them. I’m sure you tell them often.
      As I told Neil, I do not know what I would have done without all of your support. You allowing me to be with her has been huge. You guys already held a special place in my heart and it has gotten bigger through this experience.
      Love you,

  3. Shayna Mallik says:

    Wow, Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It breaks my heart to see you going thru this. I see how you light up when there is a good day for your grandma and she has the twinkle in her eyes, and I also see the sadness and heart break in you when there are her not so good days. I have been sending tons of prayers and love to you and your grandma. I know how hard it is to go thru this anytime but especially during the holidays. I have lost my uncle near the holidays last year. It was a surprise when we got the call and never wish for any family to get that call. As im sure I have told you my uncle was murdered. I still remember that day, I was at work and got the call from my dad and he said, you need to come home now, just get home safe and now. I remember just asking why what is wrong, and he wouldn’t tell me. I think I knew it was not good and started rushing to gather my things and crying freaking out. When I got home I found out, my uncle was murdered and was gone. This happened October 26, 2011 in Florida. I never even got to say good bye or anything. My mom was just crying and screaming why, it was her baby brother. We immediatley jumped in the car and drove to Vegas (where my grandma lived) to be with her and all our family there. Then a few days later flew to Pittsburgh where the funeral was held. It was also my first ever funeral. I hated life during this time and stayed strong and wouldn’t let my family see me cry because I knew how much they would cry even more. That doesn’t mean I hid my emotional I just let them out when I was alone. The thing that helped me was being with my family and having my friends supporting me. Brad, was amazing during this, He just was there for me when I returned and just would hold me and not leave me alone. You have all this support as well!!! We are all here for you for the good and the bad no matter what. If you need anything please dont hesitate to let me know, I will do anything to help you! You are so strong. Love you so much!

    • Lori says:

      Little Miss,
      I do remember you sharing the story of your uncle with me when you first started. I know those emotions are still very raw for you. I admire your tremendous attitude. You are always cheerful. It makes the days I get to be with you so enjoyable. Your joking with me yesterday made me forget for awhile all of this is going on.
      I do know without a doubt you would be there in an instant if I called you. I feel we share a special bond and I am so grateful for you. You will always be my “Little Miss”. That’s my favorite nickname for you and it is sticking.
      I’m thinking of you this weekend too. Post pictures so I can see!
      Love you right back kiddo!!!!

  4. Iris says:

    Lori, thank you for sharing your journey with us, as difficult as that may be. I know it’s hard, but you’re creating a space where we can share the human experience.

    In 2007, my 96 year old mother-in-law, Mary, was on hospice care at home and in the process of dying through the holidays. She was the family matriarch, the glue the held the family together. The family tradition was to gather at her home to make tamales the week before Christmas. We decided to uphold the tradition even though we knew her time with us was nearly over. She was bedridden, medicated, her dementia was present more often than not, she barely spoke and was no longer eating. But her eyes sparkled when we talked about shopping for “tamale day”.

    The Saturday before Christmas we got Mary out of bed, put her robe on, seated her in her wheelchair, and wheeled her to the kitchen table where we put her apron on. As the family arrived we experienced the most amazing thing. Mary was vibrant with life! Her memory was intact, she conversed with everyone, sang songs, and hugged and kissed her great-grandchildren. The memory of that miraculous day still brings tears of joy to my eyes. Mary died peacefully, surrounded by her family 4 days after Christmas. Mary had a good life and was ready to go, so I think the overwhelming emotion I had at the time was one of emptiness. But each of us will always be grateful to have seen her joy and for the final memories we all have of her from that last tamale day. That tradition is still carried on by the family. Thanks for letting me share…

    • Lori says:


      Thank you so much for sharing your special story. What a beautiful way to get to say goodbye.
      Even though it was difficult to lose her right after Christmas, what a blessing that you had one last year to experience holiday traditions with her. I can only hope to have the same experience this year. It would be lovely to spend a similar time at Thanksgiving with my Grandma where we participate in our tradition one last time.
      Your story truly gave me goosebumps when I read it because it is so special.
      Thank you,

  5. Anne Collins says:

    I know that this traumatic time will open up wounds, but it will also heal them. Like a boil that has sealed over and it becomes so painful that we go to the doctor to see if something can be done. What do they do but open it up again and lance it. That is gross, but it reminds me of how we seem to heal from buried pains of the past.
    Something has to happen to bring it to the surface to where it is very painful again, sometimes more so than in the beginning. When we open it up as you have been doing, it is, in essence, lanced. Healing then occurs where it wouldn’t have otherwise.
    My prayers are with you. You are a strong woman and a faithful grand-daughter. God sees it all and His comfort is as near as a whisper.
    Love you

    • Lori says:

      I love your analogy and feel there is so much truth in this. Something always manages brings old wounds back to the surface.
      I think God’s timing is perfect that I will be seeing Beth Moore live this weekend. I need to immerse myself in prayer which will make me feel closer to God when I need him most.
      If I have to go through this I am thankful to be surrounded by people like you.
      Love you,

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