How can I face Christmas after my dad died?

Q: My dad died right before Christmas last year. I don’t know how to face Christmas this year.

A: Christmas with my dad was always special—though probably not in the way you’d imagine. Whenever he was left to his own devices, his gifts were wrapped in garbage bags. And his favorite Christmas accessory was his “Bah, humbug’’ hat. Yet, there was always a twinkle in his eye as he enjoyed Christmas treats and watched the kids delight in the day. The year he passed on, I couldn’t imagine feeling the same joy without my dad there. 

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Christmas came, and not only was my dad gone but we couldn’t even be with our extended family. Then a family member became ill, and I spent most of Christmas taking care of her, feeling alone and sad. 

I couldn’t imagine feeling the same joy without my dad there.

It took a lot of prayer over a few days, but this family member did have a complete healing. And though it wasn’t the Christmas I’d hoped for, I did learn an important lesson. Throughout those days of praying, I’d had a calm, steady feeling that Christ, God’s love for each one of us, was present. No matter how overwhelming my sadness felt, it really didn’t have any power to stop me from experiencing the comfort and healing that come from Christ. That promise of the eternal Christ, I realized, was the real basis for joy during the holiday season. While some holiday celebrations are great and others not so great, the joy of promised healing is constant. That realization has helped me find a more steadfast peace at Christmas—no matter what the circumstances. 

Not too long after that Christmas, I went out for a walk and couldn’t stop thinking about a verse from the Bible: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1, New King James Version). I realized that my loving relationship with my dad was more than just a happy father-daughter bond. It had given me a glimpse of something much bigger: the unconditional, unchanging nature of God’s love for me. The love I’d felt from my dad had its source in God, divine Love. It might take on new forms of expression now that my dad was gone, but I could never be separated from it. 

The love I’d felt from my dad had its source in God, divine Love. It might take on new forms of expression now that my dad was gone, but I could never be separated from it.

As that spiritual discovery settled in my thought, an incredible sense of gratitude washed over me. It was a turning point in my healing of the grief that had once felt so impenetrable. Though I would’ve loved to have had more moments to share with him, I now think of my dad with deep gratitude and joy for the time we had together and the relationship we shared. 

Through this and many other experiences since, I’ve learned that moments when we feel consumed by doubt and grief are still filled with the promise of healing. Especially in those moments, Christ, the promised comfort and love of God, is present and active. It’s there to lift you above doubt, grief, and despair. And then you find that Love was, in fact, gently and beautifully leading you all along—and that Love is present for your dad, too, as he continues in his expression of eternal Life, God, in new ways. 

That feeling of the ever-presence of divine Love is the true gift of Christmas. And it has your name on it—on December 25 and every other day of the year.

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