Surviving the Holidays

It wasn’t a Hallmark movie or commercial that made Steve cry. It was simply being in the Hallmark store.

Steve stood in the aisle full of Christmas cards, overwhelmed at the options. This was just one more out of a hundred decisions and tasks that he had to deal with after his wife, Angie, had died 6 months ago.

Angie had always picked out the boxes of Christmas cards to send to family and friends. She had been the one to write the letter. She would plan ahead and choose several pictures from throughout the year and have a family Christmas picture collage created online and printed at Walgreens. She still wrote a letter even after Steve had said that most people don’t do that anymore. She liked to get the letters and cards and she felt it was important to send one – a real one, not an email. So even though the family letter was printed and carefully folded stuffed into the envelope with the card, she still wrote a personal note on every card.

And now with 1 week to go before Christmas, Steve felt like he should write a letter too. He thought it would be something that would make Angie happy – even though he knew he wouldn’t actually be able to see her smile. But what started with good intentions had become one more thing that was difficult this year.

Moving at Half Speed

Steve felt like he had moved at half speed the last 6 months and yet was twice as exhausted. He had tried to keep up with many of the traditions – he felt that his teenage daughter and son had had to deal with so many changes this year, that he wanted the holiday season to be as close as possible to like the was it was before their mother had died.

And so he found himself in the Hallmark store a week before Christmas and he just wanted to pick out a nice family card … and yet he was overcome with sadness that Angie wasn’t there to help him. Like so many other things, he wished he had appreciated her effort more. He wished he could show how much he just treasured her. He thought to himself, “I must be losing it. Crying in the Hallmark Store over a silly box of cards.”

You might see some of yourself in Steve. Perhaps you feel like you’re moving at half speed and yet twice as exhausted. You may have had sudden reminders of your loved ones that have stopped you in your tracks. And that there have been events and traditions associated with the holidays that you want to keep going and some things you want to keep the same because so much, TOO much, has changed this year already. But you’re not quite sure if you have the strength or the energy to do it all.

But as you hear Steve’s story, you may realize that he’s not losing it. He’s not crazy. He’s just grieving. And it just hurts even more during the holidays. It’s like the rest of the year – but with so many more reminders of what has been lost.

So Steve shed a few tears. He chose a box of cards that he thought Angie would have approved of. And he set to work writing the letter and adding a few personal notes. And he included his son and his daughter. As they created a little assembly line, folding letters, stuffing envelopes, attaching stamps – they all talked about Angie – mother and wife. They shared stories of her at Christmas. They laughed and cried. They talked about which traditions they were going to keep, which traditions they were going to adjust, and they decided on a few new traditions, one of which would be to visit her place of final rest on Christmas afternoon. They missed her terribly, and yet they didn’t feel so alone. Their grief had begun to transform back into love. They didn’t feel alone, and they had hope.

This article was written by Dr. Jason Troyer of Mt. Hope Grief Services. You can read more about Jason’s advice for grieving families at


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