Photo by Carol Carpenter

It was Christmas Eve, 1970. The snow, as I recall, began early. My mother, a florist, went to work, and my dad filled in making deliveries. We all knew that traveling would be difficult and that they would, for sure, be getting home late.

I was home with my older sister. By late afternoon, the snow began in earnest. We were sure that mom and dad would be very late getting home, but it didn’t cross our minds that they wouldn’t be home at all. It became apparent that if my sister and I didn’t try to keep the half-mile driveway open, they wouldn’t be able to make it in. It was beginning to get dark as my sister attempted to use the snowblower. My role was to shovel to keep the garage doors clear. It soon became evident that our efforts were in vain. The snow came down more rapidly as time passed and blew from all directions. My sister called my mom to tell her our efforts were useless. Mom said if necessary, they’d walk.

Our road was in the middle of two hills. You had to traverse a steep hill no matter which direction you came. Our parents tried valiantly to get up those hills. Finally, they gave in and stayed at friends’ homes. They were safe and would be home the following day. Santa would not be making a stop to deliver presents or decorate our tree.

By morning we had 22.2 inches of snow. So when we got the call that dad was on his way, I made my way out on snowshoes with a pair for dad. Once home, he suited up, hitched the plow to the jeep, and began creating a path for my mom. Throughout the day, we moved snow. I don’t recall opening presents. However, I remember mom’s roasted turkey and the green tablecloth with imprinted red poinsettias.

It was a year without a Santa. Little did I know it was a practice run.

I recall this story because in my role as a Bereavement Group facilitator I am acutely aware of how the holidays can be for those grieving. No matter that decades have passed without my dad since the Christmas of 1970, I still have pangs of grief. Yet, grief is a friend. It reminds us we are human and that love is real.

We grieve the loss of location, job, security, innocence, and loved ones. The journey of grief is different for everyone. Yet, we must be aware of its role in healing and teaching.

Grief has no shelf life. Its process is not linear.

One person’s loss is no greater or lesser than another. Grief is not a competition. It comes with tears, inward screams, resolute despair, and even joy. It feels like the depth of winter with its long and winding road of potholes and ice.

Christmas and other celebrations are tough. But, here are some truths that may help those grieving know we remember them and are aware of their grief.

1. Grief often mixes with joy. There is no guilt or shame in feeling happy and sad simultaneously or not feeling at all.

2. Gatherings are hard. It’s okay not to attend, attend, or leave once you arrive. Each host should offer grace and supportive understanding.

3. Mention the grieving person’s loved one by name.

4. Instead of the words “I’m sorry,” gift a memory jar, box, or stocking full of memories they can open or you can open together.

5. Grief is awkward. Ask what the person expects and clear the way at social gatherings.

6. Allow space for crying and listening. Be comfortable with tears. They cleanse our souls.

7. The greatest gift we can give is our heart. We can’t “fix” or replace grief, but we can assist and be present.

Here is my hope. We may know joy in the simplest of moments, and when it feels not accessible, we remember that within us is a great light where joy is ever-present.

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