The Challenge of Grief at Holiday Time ~ I

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As a little girl, my maternal grandfather had a heart attack on Thanksgiving (we weren't there). He died on December 3rd. Four days after Christmas the same year (December 29th), my daddy died in an industrial accident.

I briefly spoke about first being widowed young with a child to raise in 
The Little Prayer Book That Could and Did. The massive and fatal heart attack that came upon him happened in December, (right after Christmas and before New Years).

That particular blog post mainly focused on my late-in-life marriage, the loss of that husband who was diagnosed with terminal cancer one mid-November and died mid-January two months later and my grief.  I am not an expert in dealing with grief. I am quite an expert at having personally experienced the exquisite excruciating pain of grief.  Today, I want to focus on grief, children and the holidays.

Little girl ~  looking back, singularly the biggest explosion in the Universe that sucked a little girl into a 'black hole' was the death of my daddy. I was daddy's girl, his only girl. He was my 'world' and with no doubt while I know Daddy loved all his children, I also 'knew' I was the 'apple of his eye'.

Daddy's gift was that he made everyone he knew feel 'special' that way, including his wife and all his children. Daddy wasn't a superficial charmer. He meant it and he meant it for everybody he knew.

My Mama while very much inconsolable managed to go on as best she could.  She never remarried.  Here's the thing, she didn't talk about Daddy until about 40 years after he had died.

Therefore, we kids did not talk about Daddy  except with each other from time-to-time when Mama wasn't around to hear us. This is not 'Mama bashing' here. Mama didn't forbid us to talk about Daddy. It's just those times a family story or a remembrance came up with Daddy in it, she would tear up and excuse herself from the room. We kids didn't want that to happen, so we didn't talk about Daddy much at all. Do note at the time of Daddy's death, Mama was already grieving the very recent death of her own father, so she was hit with double loss in a short time period.

She couldn't help her broken heart. Until Mama started talking about Daddy five years before she herself passed, much of Daddy that I knew and came to know sourced from my own brief memories and time with Daddy and  from my brothers, family friends and other relatives.

It is of note that Mama herself passed on what would have been their sixty something wedding anniversary which was also Daddy's birthday and she was buried on Valentine's Day. I will not be convinced this was coincidence, Mama loved Daddy and only Daddy. I truly believe Mama willed her heart (which was failing to pump) to last, to hold-out until she could make the crossing to the other side on the anniversary of that day that held her most special, meaningful and beloved memories.
  ~  (I feel awful I have to say 'sixty something' but I'm terrible about time passage and exact math.)

I can't change family history. I think I eventually turned out all right. I can't live in 'what might have been'. I do think now looking back upon childhood it would have been most helpful to have been able to talk about Daddy comfortably and may have made my life progression less bumpy than what it was.

Mother and daughter ~  My daughter was a teenager when I was first widowed.  My first goal was to 'establish normalcy' like 're-establish normalcy'. (Yes, I can hear you now.)

(What I thought I meant at the time) ~  Providing structure and support in scheduling and parenting as to hopefully lesson the intensity of the uncertainty and insecurity in our lives.

(What she thought I meant at the time) ~ Mama has turned into a power and control freak.

Both of us had very busy lives which were always needing to stay organized. I can now confess I think I used my own 'busy' to run from my grief as to not fully process it. I can now confess part of my own 're-establish normalcy' while very well intentioned as to protect my child was also an excuse not to deal with my own grief.

This teen did not want to talk about her dad's death (to me). She was ANGRY She was angry over and beyond the usual teenager figuring themselves out, getting the traction toward the identity they would become as an adult and that need to begin the 'separation' process leading to their independence that every teenager goes through with their parents.  Her grief and her teenage process were simultaneous to each other.... thus I was 'the target' because I was 'the enemy'.

The one thing we both loved (love) to do especially during the holidays was (is) to bake cookies. These were our old fashioned days of  'the flour flies' with all the accoutrements of baked from scratch cookies, various assortments of many cookies. The first Christmas after her dad's death, she was not about to bake cookies alone with me at home. Her best girlfriends had to be there to buffer her from 'the enemy'.

The kitchen and especially being in the kitchen together is a magical place or maybe it's the smell of the cookies themselves being baked in the oven. There we all were and the girl just opened up and began to talk and talk and talk and talk some more. I think it started out with something like how much Dad loved these cookies. There were so many stories about her and her dad that I never heard before and I never knew. It made me so happy to hear her share them and include me right in the midst of 'ear shot'.

Dad did ~ (my daughter's telling as I remember it)  Mama tried to teach me to drive. She took me out, came home and threw up. She was all white faced and shaking. Dad took one look at her and said "I'll do it."  Every evening before dark, we'd go driving in his big old Chevy Blazer, stick shift only. Dad taught me to drive that stick shift. You should have seen his face when I'd grind the gears (she mimics the noise perfectly) or popped the clutch out too fast (she mimics all these motions and noises until it's evident the engine is off. All of us listening were completely roaring in howling laughter at her telling.)

Tough, but fair ~  (my husband would painfully irk me as our daughter worked for him and he sometimes called her out in front of other employees, I silently didn't think that was 'fair' at all. I would never have known this whole other viewpoint if my daughter hadn't told the story) ~

(my daughter's telling as I remember it) ~ Dad was so tough, so hard on me at times, but he was fair. It'd hurt me bad when I'd get in trouble and he'd call me on it right away. I figured Dad out. Dad trained me and I trained quite a few of the employees. Dad would call me out on mistakes to let me know what what they were, that as his daughter I wasn't favored and to put the other employees on notice that any mistakes will be noticed and won't be tolerated. I let Dad know I knew what he was up to. I let Dad know he was getting away paying me minimum wage. I was a good employee and worth more. I told him I didn't expect to make as much as the other employees who had families, but I deserved a raise. Dad laughed, told me "that's my girl" and gave me the raise.

This event did signal an improvement, a positive turning point for her, us and our mother~daughter relationship.

In my own rambling way ~  THE POINT ~ it's basic and simple, in all things, everyday, but especially when dealing with grief.... allow people to talk, allow folks to 'have their say'. Oh and when it's children or teens in grief, especially so. Let them talk and be prepared to listen. Everyone has their own unique grief. They'll talk about it when they are ready to talk about it.  Even if you might not agree with what they are saying, try to be non-judgemental of them, listen and respect their right to say and grieve.

Postscript:   If you are worried someone in grief may do harm to themselves, ask THEM questions first. Use your best judgement from your own instincts and their answers if you think a close family member, friend, their pastor, clergy person or even the authorities need to be alerted.

Grief Share is a grief and loss resource organization that was of immense help and support to me personally. This link should take you to their website:  Grief Share

Here is the link for The Challenge of Grief at Holiday Time ~ Part II

Another Grief blog I wrote is The Little Prayer Book That Could And Did

I am @grammakaye on twitter. You are most welcome to leave a comment.

Information correction update: May 10, 2013


  1. They lose their physical bodies, but the rest of them is STILL THERE. I always say this, but even quantum physicists say it's true. The energy that we know as the soul or mind or spirit CANNOT be destroyed. It does not add up mathematically. And true, they're in THE WORLD TO COME, but when needed...especially when needed... are still here for us too. That's not a 'sad' thing. That's a good thing. Nobody loses anybody. We just communicate in a 'slightly' different way. Every few days I'll have a dream about family members who've passed on. And they're not weird dreams but quite normal, just as I had when they were still 'here.'... So, It might sound funny, but we see each other all the time... have meals and everything.... May you and YOURS (everybody) have a really nice HOLIDAY SEASON.

    1. (((BILLY))) thank you so much for your precious special comment here at my blog. You are so loved and appreciated, kind and thoughtful.
      * * *
      Other friends you can find my friend Billy on twitter @wilkravitz

  2. Kaye, my Irish friend, I can't put myself in your shoes, or your daughter's. Dealing with the loss of a loved one, and in your case, several loved ones, is so difficult. Especially as you both had to come to terms way earlier than one normally has to. I'm so glad that you all have come out on the other side of grief, though you never get over the loss.

    I pray for you to have a blessed, calm, and peaceful holiday season, my friend!

    1. What a beautiful precious comment MJ. Thank you so very much. Yes, in all griefs - people don't "get over the loss" or losses... they "come through them". We wish for you and yours very heartwarming and loving holidays! Your friend, Kaye


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