New York State Funeral Directors Association

Loss at Holiday Time

I never really understood how important a holiday candle-lighting event at a funeral home might be until recently. Now, I think I get it. 

My wife’s mom died recently and unexpectedly. It was the day before her birthday, a week before Thanksgiving and a month before Christmas.

These are holidays that my wife has never spent without her mother. They’re holidays I’ve spent with the two for the past 18 years straight. Now, they’re holidays I want to cancel altogether.

I can’t imagine smiling and laughing right now. I tried to skip Thanksgiving, but kind friends insisted we get out of the house where my wife would normally be cooking turkey and making her mom’s favorite gravy.

I’m still trying to nix Christmas. I just don’t care. And New Year’s? That’ll simply be the start of the next year my wife won’t get to share with her mom.

Sure, there’s a host of things to focus on that might help take my mind off the numb denial, anger, shock and vulnerability I’m still feeling.

I could start trying to communicate with my mother-in-law’s doctor who we couldn’t get ahold of for hours the day she died. Maybe I can ask what might have gone wrong.

I could get involved in my wife’s research into her mom’s tiny life insurance policy – one she paid on each month with her meager funds.

Maybe I can ask why there’s so much paperwork involved or why it’s considered “contested” because my mother-in-law died within two years of buying the policy.

Do you have to know the date you’ll die in order to rest in peace knowing your monthly payments weren’t a waste? I don’t care about the insurance money.

We wouldn’t spend it anyways and I don’t want it. But my wife won’t let her dear mother’s hard-earned payments go to waste without a fight.

If she’s successful in getting the insurance company to pay out, I can bet my wonderful wife will divide it among her siblings.

No, I’ll only get involved in the post-death administration of “stuff” if my wife asks me to. So in the meantime, I can only bite my tongue, hold onto my anger and swallow the thoughts I get when I see people laughing and enjoying life.

I can hold back the tears that’ll well up in my eyes when I hear songs that remind me of my mother-in-law.

I can choke back the grief when I see TV shows and movies we’d watch on Sunday afternoons. I can wish people a “Merry Christmas” and I have no problem lying and saying “great how was yours” when asked how my holiday was.

I wouldn’t impose the ugly truth on people – I couldn’t say “my mother-in-law just died so it was horrible” after somebody asked me how was your Thanksgiving. No. I’m in a strange boat right now, and I can only imagine the one my wife is in. 

I didn’t want to “give thanks” and I don’t want to sing Christmas carols. I won’t be popping a bottle of champagne and counting down from 10 before screaming Happy New Year.

If I’m not sitting in the dark wishing this was all just a big nightmare, I can think of only one place I’d rather be.

That’s with other people who are, most likely, grinding through the pain and indifference and wishing for the old times that existed – and suddenly disappeared – around the holidays.

Our funeral home planned an event for early December and I noticed funeral homes are doing this throughout New York and beyond.

Some have been doing it for decades. They bring folks together during the holidays and give them a chance to be with others who are hurting from an irreversible loss. 

Death is one of those things you can’t fight. You can’t take it back, you can’t fix it. All I can do is try to bear it.

We could go to the funeral home that took good care of my wife’s mom; or we could go to any funeral home because I know they’d welcome us.

Events of remembrance and tree or candle lightings at funeral homes make more sense to me now that I realize how insignificant – and deeply impactful – holidays can be for those who recently lost a loved one.

Check out the website of your neighborhood funeral home if you’re feeling the weight of intense grief.

I can’t say yet whether it will help or not. But I know it’ll be better than gritting teeth and choking back tears while others smile and embrace the life my mother-in-law will never again enjoy.


EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association