Grieving at Christmas

Christmas shopping is one of those things that we all get frustrated with and complain about but, in reality, having to do Christmas shopping reveals the fact that we have people to love and people to love us right back. What are we to do though if a dear one is missing from our shopping list this year? Missing from the list because he or she has moved on from this earth?

Instead of a tangible gift that we choose from a store, the gift we give is simply our grief. It’s costly–just as a material gift costs us money. Grief costs us our tears, our smile, pleasant social interactions (sometimes the tears just come) and our happiness. As we offer up our grief, we must hold onto those gifts our passed loved ones gave to us. I wager most of the gifts we’ll hold dear are immaterial–lessons learned, personality traits passed on or good examples set. Reflect on those gifts, those precious moments, those heart felt words or stories.

The Britton Special, that my paternal grandfather built for the kids living at the orphanage

The Britton Special, that my paternal grandfather built for the kids living at the orphanage

My paternal grandfather passed away before I was born. I never had the opportunity to hear his voice or know his embrace. While it’s difficult to grieve someone you’ve never met, it is quite possible. I grieve the fact that I only know him from stories. My favorite story is that when my dad was a young child, my grandfather built a small train, known as the Britton Special, and would take it, along with my dad and his brothers, to visit orphanages in their area. They would give rides to the children living there. He did it to share joy and cheer up some kids who didn’t have a family to care for them. He did it because his creativity couldn’t stay inside and he needed to create, build and share. I cling to that memory when I feel cheated of a grandparent; cheated of my own memories with him; cheated of his generosity and creativity. Yet, I’m so thankful that he gave me the gift of knowing that carrying out acts of kindness are a way of life. I learned from him that anyone can use any sort of creative outlet as a way to help others.

Eleven years ago my grandmother died and I miss her terribly. Oh, how she would have adored myziele-grandpa daughter! She raised three sons and was so thankful for her two granddaughters. I can’t imagine her joy over her crazy, silly, charming great-granddaughter. The greatest gift she gave me was her gift of joy. She understood and lived out the truest, most pure form of joy that I’ve ever seen in anyone. She lost her firstborn in the Vietnam War and her husband a decade later. Those were two significant blows but she never punished anyone else for her pain. Her smile in her wedding picture was exactly the same as the smile she had on her face–almost constantly–until her dying day. She showed me that in spite of life’s hardships, there is always something to smile about. She showed me it can be done.

Grief quoteJust over a year-and-a-half ago, I lost my maternal grandfather. His has been the hardest loss to date for me. When I think about the fact that I’ll never hear his voice or receive a hug from him ever again, it reduces me to tears.

Every. Single. Time.

Gosh, I love that guy. My heart breaks every time I go to his house because he’s not there. I love my little granny that he left behind and gosh, am I ever thankful to still have her, but I’m having a hard time adjusting to the new normal of his absence.

The best gift he gave me was a strong work ethic. He loved to work! Work wasn’t just about making money, he loved to be busy, form relationships with people, chat and laugh. He just got the job done and moved on to the next task. No complaints. Just work.

Even as I write this and reflect on my losses and my grief, it forces me to embrace the loveliness of these amazing people. It reveals the eye-opening truth that my grief is a small offering compared to the gifts they each bestowed on me.

Every situation is different and certainly we all meet these experiences differently and traveled upon different paths to arrive where we are right now. I hope as you reflect on your loved ones this Christmas holiday that you will see the way that your life has been improved on by the gifts you received from those friends and family no longer here physically celebrating. I hope that you can wrap your mind around offering grief as a gift and that it eases the burden just a bit as it did for me. I know many who have suffered losses over the course of time and the holidays only amplify the missing piece, the hurt, the new normal that feels anything but good or right.

If you find yourself swimming in a sea of grief, please find a support group. Don’t face this alone.

There is one at Crittenton Hospital that meets every 3rd Sunday at 4 pm. For more information please call Community Health & Education Department at 248-652-5269 or email them at

There are also many GriefShare groups in this area as well. Click here to see a list and find out more about these groups and how they can help you heal.




About Meghan Zeile

Mom-in-the-know and local writer for Rochester Media. Always looking for tips with kids, family life, and fun local adventures. Contact at


  1. Dear Meghan,
    Your words are so perfect and healing! Now that I am so blessed to have a grandchild your words are a sweet reminder what things in life will hold value after we pass from this earth.

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