Christmases after the Death of Elderly Parents

Christmas is a time when thoughts of parents who have passed tend to come flooding back. I guess this is because it’s a time of year which is very family orientated and parent-child relationships are very much in the limelight.

This will be the sixth Christmas since I had both Mother and Father and the fifth since I had neither of them. I was very, very, very fortunate to have been able to spend over 50 Christmases with them ~ and there was only one when I was away from home for Christmas Day.

The Christmases we spent together were always quiet with lots of  little traditions built up over the years. In hindsight, I realise the extent to which Mother was key to maintaining most of these traditions ~ pretty much everything down to the timing of when we ate to when we exchanged presents.

I certainly don’t have any simple answers for people wondering how to cope with their first Christmas after the death of their parents. If there were strong bonds, it’s more or less inevitable that there will be a sense of emptiness and floundering. The old traditions just don’t feel quite right but new ones don’t feel quite right either.

The best advice I can offer is to make every effort to adhere to some of the old traditions but also to seek to introduce something totally new. My something ‘totally new’ last year was to skip the traditional Christmas Dinner altogether. It worked out really well as we got to spend what was a lovely sunny day out in the fresh sea air.

There is also a lot to be said for embracing the heightened memories, even if they draw tears, rather than trying to drown them out. These memories are part of what we are as grown-up children and I, for one, am glad that my parents shared their memories of their parents with me around Christmas time.

What prompted me to write this post today was a friendly robin perching near me as I did some pre-Christmas gardening. It reminded me so strongly of how my father loved being in the garden at this time of year because of the robins.  Need I say any more about continuities …..?


If you’ve experienced Christmases after the death of your parents, how have you coped? 

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

16 thoughts on “Christmases after the Death of Elderly Parents”

  1. I think cross culturally if someone celebrates Christmas then the sentiments may be of the same experience as others providing the bonds were strong. If not then the passing of a parent may not be of the sentiments around Christmas and sentiments will vary. My father passed this year but my father was closed emotionally not showing emotions towards the children only when he was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 46 did I receive a hug from him on his dying bed. Such years wasted. At Christmas it will not be earth shattering. The only memory I have is one hug. Our relationship was not that close. I am closer to my mother and when she passes I will feel the loss at Christmas.

    On another note when you were speaking of a robin I saw the robin’s we have here in Canada. When I looked at your robin which was different somewhat I found myself with a false perception I believed in. Here is our robin.

    1. Joseph, I’m sorry to hear that your relationship with your father was not as close as it might have been and that you have a sense of ‘years wasted.’ I’m glad, though, that you had the experience of that hug!

      Thanks for the pic of the robin. Interesting to compare and contrast. The red breast is certainly common to the two.

  2. Yes, this will be an interesting year for us too. My Mother passed away end of March this year and in some ways we were so far apart the only thing we shared for awhile was our surname and yet, in other ways, we were close. So, I will miss the Christmas phone call ritual but the plus is that there is a new closeness with other members of our family. Life is funny…or is it people are funny…or may be it’s me that’s funny. Is anyone tutoring in Philosophy 101…I have lots to learn.

    I have to say that I love the Robins and loved your photo. And Wow…aren’t the Robins different in Canada, but it is still a beautiful bird. We have Yellow Robins close by and when I get the chance I will post a picture of one on the blog:):)

    1. Olga, please accept my sympathy on your mother’s death.
      ‘Closeness’ is something that I think is very hard to define and it can seem different at different times (and in contrast with other people’s experiences as described by them).
      I think that physical distance from parents can be a huge issue, especially as they get older. I lived just round the corner from my parents for the last years of their lives and that was key, I think, in enabling us to remain very close as all the little changes were incorporated into the relationships as they occurred, rather than being one big change after maybe months of meeting.

      As for the robins, I’d love to see the photo of the yellow one!

    1. Hi David, thanks for writing. ‘Melancholy’ is a strong word and I hope the post didn’t sadden you to much. Melancholy, for me, is about bittersweetness so it has a soft side too.

  3. Everytime I hear Ave Maria..I think of my Mom. This was one of her favorite hymns. A flood of memories come from past Christmases. We use to switch every other year with our parents spending quality time with each of them. Of course if we went to dinner at one parents home we would go to the other parents home later in the day. With children it was exhausting especially the baby and the toddler stage. Then we started our own tradition and they would come to our home for dinner or sometimes earlier if they wanted to see the kids open their presents. Sometimes my inlaws would have the celebration on Christmas Eve and there would be a buffet. My Mom use to have Christmas dinner usually Ham, or Turkey. I would love to see my siblings if they were able to come. We stopped exchanging gifts with them as it became too expensive so we gave only to our parents. Christmas at our home is a day for our grown children and their families to come if they can. I serve a buffet which is easier for those who just want to pick ..this year I bought a game called “Reminisce”..a trivia game for those over 30yrs (which all our children are) so that should be fun to play. Christmas is bittersweet for us as we are estranged from our youngest Son and his family..the greatest gift would be to have them present but it’s not going to happen as it’s their choice. So we just go on with our lives. We miss those who have passed but think of them fondly with memories that were made.

    1. Joni, lovely memories and I will always think of you and your mother now when I hear Ava Maria.
      I hope that the rift with your son will somehow be resolved. It can’t be easy for any of you.

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