By heatherericksonauthor.comThe Erickson Family

Grieving During the Holidays: Cancer & Christmas

Grieving During the Holidays

While the holidays are meant to be a time of joy and family gatherings, when you are faced with cancer, there is a real mixture of emotions that come at this time of year. That’s because whether you or a loved one currently has cancer, or you’ve lost someone close to the disease you will feel the full effects of grieving during the holidays.

Our Story

We discovered my husband’s stage IV lung cancer at the end of October, just a couple of days before our 3rd wedding anniversary, a couple of weeks before his 52nd birthday, 3 weeks before Thanksgiving, 2 months before Christmas, and then 2013, the year he would statistically die.  In 2 months’ time, we trudged through all of these days that we would normally celebrate. Yet, we didn’t feel like celebrating. Without saying it out loud, each member of our family wondered if this would be the last time we had together on any of those occasions.

Our daughter, Summer, described it as feeling like everything had to be perfect since it could be the last. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, least of all family get-togethers. This can lead to frustration and disappointment, which are really due to the underlying emotions of grief.

Grief Amplified

Grief during the holidays is like that of other times of the year except amplified. While everyone else is getting into the holiday spirit, you may feel more alone than ever. Sometimes this is because you’ve lost someone you love. Sometimes it’s because you’ve lost the way things used to be and no one seems to understand.

Don’t Worry About “Getting Over It”

All too often, people feel the need to “get over it”, so that they don’t ruin the day. It’s important to allow yourself to feel these emotions, even on special occasions. This means taking some time. You may want to journal about your feelings. If you are grieving during the holidays, the loss of a loved one, you might want to get together with a friend or family member who would like to share memories of your loved one.

Set Limits

It’s not only okay but also important to set limits. If you have always had Christmas at your home, see if you could join someone else’s holiday meal. Sometimes a change in setting can be helpful for eliminating the disappointment that the traditions in your home are changing.

Anticipating Grieving During the Holidays

Anticipating special days is often harder for people who are grieving than the day, itself. I really struggled as our wedding anniversary approached this year. My husband was always the one to make our special plans. Each year he would surprise me with an overnight getaway. This year, it would just be me. I had planned to go to a retreat for a few nights just prior to our anniversary. While I was there, I felt closer to Dan than I had felt since he died. In a way, it felt like we were on that retreat together. That gave me so much peace.

On our actual anniversary, my brother-in-law brought his urn over our oldest daughter, Emily, sent me flowers that looked a lot like the flowers in my bridal bouquet. That night, a friend of mine took me out.  Special days aren’t going to look the same while you are grieving, but they can still be special.

Grieving During the Holidays…Continued

I’ve also spoken to many widows who have told me that the 2nd year was actually harder than the 1st after losing their spouse. That’s because so many kind people were there for them the first Christmas they experienced as a widow. The 2nd Christmas, many people assumed that things were okay. There is no time clock for grief.

When You Have Young Children

If you have children, it’s important to talk to them about their expectations and concerns when it comes to special occasions. They are grieving as well. Eliminating longstanding traditions altogether can be very painful for them and isn’t necessary. In fact, this time of year can be a time for them to work through the feelings they may have but haven’t spoken aloud.

It’s important that your children know that it’s okay to cry and it’s also okay to laugh, even while you are grieving. They will learn this best by seeing what you do. Special occasions are a time for remembrances and for new traditions. A mixture of both will help you as you navigate the waters of grieving during the holidays.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on

Also, check out Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer.

Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


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