By Amanda Wells
No one could have prepared me for what I felt that first Christmas without my mom. My best friend. The one who made Christmas magical for me, finding ways to secretly bless others, celebrating Jesus’s birthday, donning an apron and rolling out sugar cookies and pumpkin rolls to share, filling Christmas cards with notes to send to loved ones, and making handmade ornaments with us. It was my favorite time of year.
After she was gone, I couldn’t wrap my head around a spirit of thankfulness and celebration. I couldn’t equate a holiday with happiness when the weight of loss left a gaping wound in my heart.
How do you celebrate Christmas and the birth of a Savior when you’ve just lost a loved one?
The last thing I felt like doing was celebrating Jesus when I’d just lost my mom. Then my grandparents followed her. My grief knew no bounds, yet the storefronts, with their peppermint-striped décor, green garlands lining the windows, tiny trees and miniature presents filling the displays, screamed celebrate.
Because I felt raw pain, I wanted the rest of the world to feel it too. To understand the hurt so deeply ingrained on my soul. I wanted the store owners to box up their cheery decorations and stuff them back in their storerooms and mourn with me.
The world continued as usual, though. Cinnamon and pine filled the fragrant homes of friends. Nativity scenes graced their mantels, the promise of hope boldly presented for everyone to see. Full, green Fraser firs filled their living rooms, handmade ornaments hanging from each branch, colorful lights glistening while candles burned above crackling fires.
These people have never experienced loss, I thought. I wondered briefly if we could decorate our home in black, which matched my mood. What do you do with grief at Christmastime?
It’s taken me until now to be able to write about my first Christmas without my mom, but a dear friend showed me how to survive and even thrive that first Christmas without her. Her unusual tips gave me hope and comfort while I grieved during the holidays.
Decorate. But switch up the décor and try a blue Christmas. Honestly, between feeling blue and that being my mom’s favorite color, I thought replacing my red decorations with blue made perfect sense to me. Think outside the box and use natural materials like pine cones, branches, or upcycled tin cans to color and decorate.
Record those memories. My family and I found every picture of my mom with the kids and put them in a scrapbook, along with copied, handwritten notes we found in her journals. Not only did it help to recall precious times, but now we have beautiful scrapbooks to look through anytime we want.
Experience joy in a different way. I once heard that we should give to others what we so desperately crave. I desired love and memories that year, and we set about giving love and creating memories with friends, family, and even strangers. There’s something sweet and peaceful about extending love to others even when they are unaware of our hurt.
Move forward, not on. Some people are uncomfortable with pain and don’t know what to say. They might awkwardly suggest you “move on” from your hurt. May I suggest we don’t move on, but move forward? Moving on suggests forgetting the precious memories and love you had for your loved one. Moving forward just means figuring out how to keep going in a new way, like an amputee learning to use a prosthetic limb. It’s different.
Let it out. Just because everyone else is cheerful doesn’t mean you have to be. I give you permission to cry, to mourn your loss. To remember your loved one and carry on his or her legacy. To build new traditions and memories. Pain is part of the healing process, so go ahead and grieve well.
It’s been two and a half years since my mom’s been at the feet of Jesus, and I won’t pretend it gets easier. Certain smells, sounds, and sights—cinnamon, a crackling fire, crinkled Christmas wrapping paper—trigger memories, and I stumble from the unpredictable scenes flashing across my mind. But I’ve learned to embrace the memories and record them for my children and their children because hers is a legacy worth leaving.
If you’ve lost a loved one this year and you’re experiencing the harsh reality of the world still spinning while you’re stuck in grief, know that my heart mourns alongside you. We’d love for you to join us at The Glorious Table community Facebook group. Share sweet memories of your loved one and let us love you.
Amanda Wells is the proud wife of a smokin’ hot third generation farmer, and they have taken Psalm 127:5 literally, raising their quiverful of six kids on the farm. She loves baking, reading, writing, and arithmetic (kidding!). Amanda writes about faith, homeschooling on the farm, and family life at farmwyfe.com.