Seasons Grieving: How to Survive the Holidays After Suffering Loss

by: Shiloh Elder

I take a deep breath in.

A heavy sigh escapes my lips in an attempt to release the pressure from the crushing anxiety in my chest, but more just floods right back in.

I pushed the last of the boxes aside, popped the cap off my Sharpie and wrote “Clothes – Donate” on the side of the eleven hundredth cardboard box jammed full of my mom’s clothes.

I surveyed the room – overwhelmed by all the STUFF.

It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I was tired of staring at these piles.
Clutter feeds my anxiety and I needed to clear the space in my living room and my heart.

I sadly made my way through the maze of boxes, bags and random scatterings of what were just recently my mom’s most beloved possessions.

Her favorite clothes, old Christmas decorations, makeup, hair stuff…. all of the things that made her, well, Mom.

Now I am forced to play judge and decide what stays, what goes, and what gets tossed back to the undecided pile.

I turned to the last box, one that actually only had my stuff inside, expecting to just quickly reorganize it and shove it back in the spare room.

I popped the lid and took out a few dish towels, and underneath was a couple of Christmas tree decorations that were definitely in the wrong box.

I took on the task to sort through the various ornaments and ribbons; sifting through it was then that I found, perfectly placed on top, an ornament with “Mom” written in black pen.

My heart sank.

The ornament was a small wooden paddle with little cabin-themed trinkets hanging off of it with wire. I dug through and found one for each member of our family. I laid them out on my kitchen table; Mom, Daddy, Sister, Me.

But I quickly noticed that “Mom” was written in my sister’s handwriting.

Curious, I turned my mom’s ornament over and discovered she wrote her name on the back, (and my sister must have written it on the front – where it should be!) but that was my mother’s true form showing through – selfless in all ways.

My eyes teared up as I noticed silly string from a Christmas past, dried to each ornament.

My gaze broke and I could feel the calendar on the wall burning a hole in the back of my head. The days were flying by and the holidays were fast approaching. But the panic never set in, my heart didn’t wretch at the intense feelings of indefinite loss.

I straightened my back, took a deep breath and remembered: it’s only TTFN.
A phrase my mom adopted from Winnie the Pooh that means “Ta Ta For Now”- never goodbye, always TTFN.

She would say those four simple letters to me every day, and they were the last four she whispered before she passed.

I knew when my mom lost her battle with cancer June of this year, that life was going to be completely different.

Not bad – just different. I knew I didn’t want to force myself into “normalcy” – that I’d instead rather create a new normal life; one that honors my mom, and rejoices in the presence of the loved ones surrounding me.

This included all of the “firsts”: all the first holidays, birthdays, announcements, milestones and anniversaries without her.

I know she would not want me to sit and suffer in sad silence, but instead stand up and love hard on the ones here with me.

She wants me to count my blessings and give thanks for what I have been given: a chance to make a choice between a life lead in fear, and a life lead with love.

And I choose love, every time.

To those of you who are coping with the loss of your loved one(s)…

1.) It’s not about the presents, it’s about the presence.

While we are in mourning of our loved ones lost, their absence will become painfully clear during the holidays.

I beg you: Please do not put any expectations upon yourself.
Extend that rule to your life from here on out.

You must be kind to yourself and your heart and understand that you require extra self-care this time of year.  Grief can be blinding, and if you allow it to consume you, you will miss out on the precious time with the ones here who love you.

It’s okay to feel the sadness and pain. Those are normal human emotions. If you keep your sadness inside, tears will fall and stain your soul.

If you let the pain out, the tears fall to the ground and wash away. Let them wash away so you can look up to and embrace the warmth of your loved ones and be accepting of happiness.

Because it’s okay to be happy too.

2.) It’s okay to create a new normal life that honors your loved one.

Like I said before, these new traditions, changed plans… they don’t have to be bad, sad or angry.
You have an opportunity to create something different – something happy!  

I also do not feel guilty for not being in the holiday spirit and I am okay with being okay with that! If you’re not into it – then make a new tradition.

The thing about life is it is constantly changing. Your willingness to adapt is what will make or break you.
Cut yourself a break because there is no time limit when you’re grieving.

There’s no map to follow, no wrong way or right. This is a chance to rewrite tradition, to give back, to remember your loved one and combine old memories with new.

Or, like my family, it’s also okay to take a break too. To skip it, to just be together and not waste our energy on the commercialized holiday. It’s okay to just be.

3.) Christmas is just another day.

It is no less painful than the days when that song comes on the radio on your way to work and you have to pull over because you can’t see through the tears.

Grief comes in unexpected ways, but it is easily diluted with love.

Hate, anger, fear…. Those feelings will feed into your sadness, and send you tail spinning into the dark unknown. But love, trust, perseverance… those actions will bring more joy into your life than you can imagine possible.
Love will be your flashlight in those dark times.

4.) You’ll have your weak moments and that’s perfectly OK.

My mom knows the pain I will carry in my heart, but she also knows my strength.  

Your loved one knows yours, too.  

That’s what keeps me marching on. So do yourself a favor and fill your love cup up however you need to during this holiday season, and let it be enough. It is okay to not be okay, even on the “happiest” days of the year.

So whether this is the first or the 21st Christmas without your precious loved one, remember to keep their spirit burning in your heart.

Honor their bright beautiful life and give yourself the credit to know you’re doing okay and understand there is not a wrong or right way to grieve now or during the holidays.

This life is short, our time on Earth is but a fleeting moment in eternity.

Afterall, it’s only TTFN – Ta Ta For Now 🙂



  1. This is fantastic, Shiloh. Great writing from your heart that will help many, including myself. Thanks so much. I miss your mom. I miss my mom. I miss my mom’s smile as she got her hair curled by your mom five years ago. Of course Christmases and special days are going to hurt without our loved ones here, but when we’re thinking of them, they are thinking of us too, sending their love and wishes for making future memories just as special.

  2. Speechless. Your heart and soul are PURE. Your mother ALWAYS put a smile on my face, always asked how I was doing and ALWAYS asked how little Madi is doing. Her hugs and warmth always made you smile and I loved just “chatting”. This is why I love you, your strength in all of this will bring someone comfort like your mom has brought so many others. This journey is only the beginning, and I am blessed to watch it.

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