When People Die During the Holidays: Brutal & Beautiful

When People Die During the Holidays: Brutal & Beautiful

I was a week shy of being a year old when my grandpa died unexpectedly on Thanksgiving. While I don’t remember the tragedy of the day or his lovely, southern accent, Thanksgiving has always been a time when we’ve talked about him.

Growing up, I have a vivid memory of my dad playing “Silent Night” from a Manheim Steamroller Christmas album over the stereo and finding my mom with tears in her eyes telling me that this song always made her think of her dad.

It was an unspoken and informal way that my dad remembered my grandpa and my mom. Simply by playing the song he created a brief space where there was solemn pause and dear remembrance.

We still do this. I hope we will always do this. 

20 years later, my other grandpa died on December 23rd. The eve of Christmas Eve. I don’t remember anything about that Christmas. What I do remember is being with him that last night, massaging his head as he lay in his hospice bed at home, surrounded by his children who all shared stories of past Christmases together. It was a beautiful and brutal night.

Last week my dad had a heart attack. It was “mild” they say, but it didn’t seem mild and without the amazing doctors he had it could’ve been much, much worse. That was also a brutal and beautiful day – waking up in terror and going to bed in hope. I’ve done the opposite and I know how blessed I am to have him with me still.

This idea of brutal and beautiful – it works. I hate that people die and around the holidays truly seems like the worst possible time. It is, and it isn’t. I’ve found that having these death-anniversaries pinned to Thanksgiving and Christmas has given my family a natural space to recall and speak of the grandpas we are missing when we gather. The holidays themselves have become a mixture of beautiful and brutal memories.

What you can do at a family gathering …

If you are missing and grieving someone (even if they died 30 years ago), you can and you should talk about them. We all benefit from stories, from real life, from sharing our pain and joy with each other. The act of remembering doesn’t always take a lot of words. There’s isn’t always a lot to say. Sometimes it’s just listening to a song together, sometimes it’s counting the years since we were together with them. It doesn’t have to be grand, time-consuming, or forced.

But if you feel a need, do something about it. If you are feeling it, it is VERY LIKELY someone else is as well. 

So, say their name, count the years, and toast your mugs of hot cocoa and do it all, in brutal, beautiful remembrance.

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. Annette says:

    Well said. Our son died at 15 1/2 on Dec. 22, 2003.
    He is always remembered, always.

  2. Karen Turner says:

    Beautifully said, my sweet Molly. It feels so good to hear you talk about my dear dad… it feels so good that you notice and remember. It is a gift that you give to me. It means the world to me because he meant the world to me. And so do you.

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