Grief: The Uninvited Holiday Guest

Every year since my father died, I hope the uninvited guest doesn’t show.

Every year around this time I think, “Maybe this will be the year that he won’t make an appearance.”

The season begins and at first things go well. I can feel quite fine for a while, even unexpectedly buoyant as the muscle memory of the holidays catches me by surprise—and I let my guard down. I actually begin to fully consent to the joy.

I fool myself into believing I won’t have to contend with him this year, and all he brings with him when he barges in, unannounced and uninvited—the mess he so recklessly tosses into the fan. For a while I begin to feel like I’ve been given an annual reprieve—and I exhale.

And then it happens: A song on the radio, a smell coming from the kitchen, a photo on my timeline, a keepsake unwrapped for the first time in twelve months—and there he is sitting close beside me again: this Grief that doesn’t take a holiday.

At first I’m rightly pissed off at the intrusion, furious that he’s once again broken open those locked away rooms in my heart that I try all year to fortify. I resent the lump in my throat and the tears streaking down my cheeks and the void I’m feeling again because he’s here.

I don’t want this right now. I don’t want him in this house. I want Grief to let me be for one freakin’ season so that I can receive those tidings of comfort and joy that I’m supposedly entitled to but never seem to get my arms around.

I want Grief to leave.

But then I realize that he hasn’t come here uninvited to do me damage. He’s come here to surprise me with a gift that I hadn’t asked for, wouldn’t say I wanted—but so desperately need.

The gift Grief gives me is this terrible, painful bittersweetness that reminds me just how well loved I was by my father to be feeling such sadness now. This heartbreak is a monument, these tears a tribute.

That’s why Grief is here. He is the tax on loving people, and the fact that I am feeling such a deficit in his presence is a celebration of how blessed I’ve been, to have someone to grieve so fully over.

Grief is here right now to give me the gift of feeling it all again freshly, so that I never forget how beautiful those holidays were, how easy gratitude was, how effortless singing a song of joy could be.

And yeah, maybe this is all much more difficult now, and maybe I’ll never have a holiday quite like that again because of the subtraction that’s taken place—but this uninvited, unannounced Grief reminds me that just as my father left a legacy of love with me, so I’m given these days to do the same with those I hold dear.

I have this season and these holidays and this moment to be present with those I treasure; to make memories and create traditions and notice beauty—because that is what those we so miss right now did with us while they could, and it’s why we miss them.

They shared their now with us, while grieving the then they missed too. They celebrated life while being visited by Grief too. This is what love does. It dances through tears. 

So while I tried my best to avoid him this holiday season, and while I don’t like some of what he brings when it shows up, I think I’ll invite him in for a while.

I think I’ll welcome Grief this year.


34 thoughts on “Grief: The Uninvited Holiday Guest

  1. {{{{{{{{{{John}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

    One when I was grieving so very terribly, someone said that in time, the grief won’t be so raw.

    I have found that to be true. Thirty-nine years ago I was insane with grief because my closest friends had just murdered their daughter, my Goddaughter and only three years old, and then they drank the Kool-Aid and died.

    I thought I would never get past it. The horror. The betrayal. The grief.

    I find living with grief is like peeling an onion, a trite cliche but true. Thee are layers and layers and layers and layers.

    Those we have lost deserve our grief. We deserve to feel it. It tells us how much we loved. It tells us how much that person was loved. It tells us we have yet more love to lavishly bestow on others.

  2. It’s really difficult to deal with a broken heart. I’m sure I will not have to invite grief to my house this year.

  3. Thank you for this sharing John.
    My father passed away on Thanksgiving, 31 years ago this week, and the holiday has been bittersweet ever since. Your words express the lingering and returning grief, as well as the blessing hidden behind the veil of shuttered emotions.
    Bless you on this holiday, and all days.

  4. The uninvited guest is always lurking, ready to pounce when things are looking good. The guest can be a real bully. Just when I am feeling overwhelmed by this guest some part of Karma intervenes and I hear Simon and Garfunkle and the Sound of Silence….Hello darkness my old friend….it’s not good to talk with you again”… I am relived to see my friend in grief.

  5. When I was 45, I was about 3 months pregnant with what would have been baby #4. It was the week before Christmas, and I was driving Leilah, 12, and Gabe, 2, around to see all the lights. The radio was on with all the Christmas music, and as ‘Silent Night’ played, I felt an unmistakable twinge, and the next day, I lost the baby.

    I told myself, and truly believe, that it was “for the best”, but all my three were such absolutely stellar little people, I was excited about what would absolutely have been the last one.

    That was 26 years ago, and I still get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes every time I hear that song.

  6. You are echoing, Queen Elizabeth II, who said, about 9/11, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
    But you make the beautiful point that you’re passing your father’s love and teaching onward, so they still live in you.

  7. Grief comes at unexpected moments to remnd us that we are the love that is made of all who have loved us. My daughters are in their 30s, they lost their mom a couple of years ago and we are scattered around the country. Grief visits even without death. I wrote this for my daughters this year:
    It’s another Christmas time,
    And another Christmas Day;
    Another Happy Time of year
    When we look around and say:

    “Where are all of those we love?
    Oh where, oh where have they all gone?
    Why can’t we have all of them here,
    To be with each and every one?”

    Yes it’s another Christmas time
    Filled with lots of Christmas cheer,
    And then we look inside to find
    All those we love are still right here.

    Right here inside our heart
    So deep inside, inside of us;
    It doesn’t take Christmas to know
    They never left, they cannot leave
    Our very live is made of them.

    It’s another Christmas Time
    Yes, it’s another Christmas Day
    Another Happy Time of year,
    So here is all I want to say:

    Merry, Merry Christmas,
    With all the love that’s in my heart
    Merry, Merry Christmas,
    That comes from those within my heart.

    Merry, Merry Christmas
    With all that love
    I give to you.

  8. Very well said John -thank you. How well I know the feeling – my youngest sister died 7 years ago , way too soon, and this year I mark 30 since my dad died and 39 since my mom died – and I feel the loss every year …..but it is balanced by the joy of the now-23 years that my wife and I have been married – my greatest gift . Life is like that – joy and sorrow mixed. Thanks for sharing – may you find comfort this holiday season.

  9. Thank you, John, for these words. They remind me of how much I was loved by my parents. Though the holidays without them are now many, their joy lives on in our family gatherings.

  10. Grief can be so bittersweet…Thankful for the memories…So hard to let go. I lost my mom 4 months ago…While preparing for Thanksgiving felt like she was so close all day.

  11. My brother died on December 30th 1999. Every year since grief has come to visit at a different time from Thanksgiving through his birthday in February. I have finally come to accept that this time of year will be hard, but I surround myself with family and we remember the good times. I still miss him and sometimes but he is with me always.

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  13. This took my breath away for a moment, and reminded me it was actually ok to keep breathing. The holidays will never be the same, and they don’t have to be. Thank you for such a moving article.

  14. This is the first full holiday season without my Daddy. It’s so much harder than I thought.

    Thanks for such a great post.

  15. My heart goes out to all of you who have had these terrible losses.

    This will be our first Christmas since my mother died. More recently, there was another reason to grieve, someone who is still living on the planet but who decided he was dead to me and I to him.

    John’s reminder that this sadness means we have experienced being well loved is a great comfort to me right now. Thank you.

  16. Beautiful! That is how I’m feeling this year after the loss of our son, Danny, #forever20 God Bless

  17. Thank you for this — we lost my brother this past weekend in a tragic accident and the grief is crippling for us all at this time. I know that in the years to come, Grief will come at what has up to now the most joyous time of year for me. I pray I can hold fast to what I do, in fact, know with my mind – that the enormity of the grief I have is in direct response to the immeasurable love that we have been blessed with.

  18. This is your second post that stirred unexpected feelings of envy. Several years ago my mother died. I never shed a tear or felt any loss. Without going into detail, my mother was extremely abusive until I left home at 18. A lot of that abuse was driven by an overzealous desire to beat the love of the Lord into me. Needless to say, she didn’t succeed. That being said, I have struggled for many years with my lack of faith and how that puts me on the fringes to so many people. I am envious of the comfort people derive from their faith. The post about grief served as a reminder that, at least for me, grief and faith can be so intertwined and one without the other can leave one spiritually hungry. At 66, the anger has been replaced with acceptance but never resignation. Your post (and others who commented) is a reminder that “heart pain” only comes when we’ve lost something we truly treasure and were fortunate to have experienced it in our lives

  19. Thank you for writing this. It really struck me. This is my 5th Christmas without my dad, and I miss him just as much as ever. But in some ways, I don’t think I ever want to stop missing him. It makes him real, even now.

    Merry Christmas.

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