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Bryan Painter: Holidays can be tough on people who have lost a loved one

Celebrating Christmas after the death of a loved one is never easy, but there are strategies that help people cope.
by Bryan Painter Published: November 18, 2012
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Friends are there

In August 1970, Janet married George Miller the day after she turned 16 and just about three months after he had graduated from high school. Although the loss pains Janet deeply, she blames no one because the weather was terrible, the snow blinding. George was always helping people and that's what he died doing, assisting others in the blizzard.

But Janet recently talked about her toughest challenge during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons since her husband's death.

“For me it's him not being here to teach my grandsons things only he could,” Janet said, “like what kind of mushrooms are good and which ones are bad or how to shoot a gun with safety first.” He loved to take them hunting, whatever the season happened to be.

More than anything, she said, they could have seen in their grandfather what it is to be a good person, and her granddaughter would have seen how a man should treat her with respect.

Janet said family and friends are important throughout the year in helping each other deal with the void.

For example, she said a close friend lost her husband about six months before George was killed. Her husband had been George's best friend in high school and through his life.

“She is always there for me and I for her,” Janet said. “We are both Christian ladies, have the same principles and we keep each other in check which is something everyone needs. I think special friends are important. For one thing, they tell you the truth always, even if you don't want to hear it.

“Christmas and Thanksgiving is all about family and our family is missing a big piece.”

Remembering

Wayne Loder of Compassionate Friends said he thinks it is important to let individuals know their loved ones haven't been forgotten, whether it's by making a call or sending a card, or in other ways.

The Loders did not celebrate Christmas for a few years after the loss of their son and daughter. But when they had other children, they decided to celebrate Christmas and wanted to remember Stephanie and Stephen.

“We asked all of our friends and relatives if they would write a remembrance note of something that was special to them about our children,” Wayne said. “When we read those stories, we cried. It really touched us.”

An ornament

Another year, the Loders asked that individuals would provide an ornament that reminded them of Stephanie and Stephen.

Among the many they received was a pair of tiny white dance shoes and a little wooden train car on a track.

“And those go up on the tree every year,” he said.

Just maybe

Christmas Eve in 2000, their first without Tyler since the accident, was one of the toughest days of Pat and Vicki's lives. They had always made a big production of Christmas Eve and then set out gifts from Santa after the boys went to bed, even when they were teenagers. That night in 2000 was the first time in 17 years they didn't do that.

“It was truly gut wrenching,” Pat said. “I think for me this year may not actually be tougher since we have moved away from the place that held so many memories. Maybe I can leave those feelings in a box this year and not open it. But that's a pretty big maybe. It's not Christmas Eve yet.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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