Healing Through The Holidays

December 20, 2017

I am finding this December harder than the last. This is the second Christmas without Toby, and there is more hurt in the holidays than I remember from last year.

Last year it had only been four months since Toby died. My memory of that time is very spotty. I remember only bits and pieces. I remember feeling like we had to decorate for the holidays. Lucas, our older son, needed that for normalcy, for tradition. So we did. We decorated the house. Hung all the ornaments on the tree. We wrapped presents and went to see Santa.

This year, the thought of these activities drains me. We got all the decorations down from the attic right after Thanksgiving. I opened a few boxes, pulled out stockings and garland for the mantel and then I closed the boxes back up. I didn’t have the strength to haul it all out. Hanging ornaments makes my mind wander to the thought of holding Toby while Lucas places them on the tree. I get stuck in that moment. I can’t get past the thought of it never happening. It stuns me.

Toby’s Ornament from the Scared Sidless Memorial Ornament Exchange
Photo by: Katie Stern


I get lost in the stores when I go out to shop. Sometimes I feel like I just wander aimlessly. I walk past toys, and they make me sad. So I find myself in the girl’s section because my heart doesn’t ache as much there.

I was standing in a store the other day, looking at wrapping paper, and I heard this little voice say “Santa. Ho, Ho, Ho.” I turned to look, and it was this little boy, no older than two, talking to what looked like his grandmother. He was pointing at Santa on the shelf. He had dark blonde hair. I began to cry. I hadn’t even seen his face, but I wanted so badly for him to turn around and be Toby.

We placed a tree at Toby’s grave, like last year, for the holidays. Last year his tree had fallen over because of the ground not being level and the weather. This year my husband and I devised a plan about how and what we needed to do to secure it. I was telling someone about how we placed the tree this year, and their response was “live and learn, huh?”

Toby’s 2017 Christmas Tree
Photo by: Katie Stern

Live and learn. That has stuck with me.

What I Am Learning About the Holidays and Grief

I am learning that I felt less pain during the holidays last year, but only because I felt so empty and numb.

I am learning that this time of the year it is harder to hide from the triggers. They are everywhere, and the pain is often unbearable. I have yet to learn how to accept that. It’s more about accepting myself and knowing that I can’t handle it all. I have to face it, yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to ‘grin and bear it.’ I need time to continue to grieve. Time to cry. Time to be alone. I need to have time with my husband, so we can grieve together, not just go through the motions and suppress the hurt and anger. I need to spend time with Lucas, doing something he wants to do. We need time as a family so that we can work on creating a new holiday tradition that includes Toby.

I don’t believe this time of year is helpful for healing nor is it easy for anyone who grieves. There are too many “what if’s” and “what could have been’s.”

I am trying to take it easy. Trying to avoid the same trigger twice. I am trying to be fair to my and my husband’s heart. Maybe even think about “what can be,” and how Toby’s memory can be a part of future holiday traditions.

I am working on having a less cluttered holiday season, to help ease the pain of not having both of our boys here for Christmas.

Live and learn?

More like live and heal.

Related Post: How Active Grieving Saved Me from More Pain


  • Katie Stern

    Katie’s son, Toby, died on August 24, 2016 in his sleep from SIDS. She and her husband, Dan, are working to establish The Little Fox | Toby’s Foundation to spread joy to children and families in their region, while educating others on a journey of a grieving parent. Katie lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, their two-year old son Lucas, and their two boxers – Murray & Theo.

    Prev Post Next Post