Even This Santa Gives Thanks


Expert Author Nan Zastrow

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins. Shopping carts and arms are brimming with purchases. Early in the season there is a sense of joy--the miracle part of Christmas when good moods prevail; and everyone is wrapped up in the joyous preparation. We become "Santa" as we plan the perfect holiday celebration. We credit Santa with joyous moods, family celebrations, and the perfect gift.

I once played the role as Santa, just like them. Today, there is something missing from the Santa scene... my son. Since our first Christmas without Chad, I've never been quite as enthusiastic about the holiday as I once was. There is an overriding sense of pain that hangs over the merriment that others feel. It stifles the comfort of music; takes the fun out of tradition; and dulls many memories that once sparkled.

Grief and Ebenezer Scrooge make good bedfellows. I soon realized the center of our holiday is our loved ones. When one of them is missing, our holidays are meant to change to accommodate a different life without them. Chad was the special element that put "thankfulness" into Thanksgiving, "happy" into Birthday and "merry" into Christmas.

Playing Santa for Chad was always a challenge. Though he never wanted any gift in particular, he could produce a list 16 pages long without much effort. And he would smile mischievously at his accomplishment. Whatever I ended up doing or buying was still a surprise! But more than the gifts were the good times: The piñatas and Santa visits as children; the hidden presents and other traditions as adults. Santa lived in our hearts from childhood to becoming an adult.

That first holiday after his death, my heart ached with every thought of celebration. I tried all the tips for coping, but nothing seemed right. I even talked to my family early on about "changing our traditions"--doing things differently. I remember, clearly, sitting on the golf course in August, with my sister-wanting advice how our family was going to cope. It's no wonder that by the time the holidays arrived my anxiety level had peaked. All I wanted to do was to get it over with!

I didn't make a very good Santa that year. I couldn't have cared less if I shopped. It hurt to watch the children. I couldn't find peace in the religious celebrations. I cried through every ornament I hung on the tree. I abandoned the Christmas Eve services because my heart ached and my eyes were red from crying. And, as much as I tried to make things normal for everyone else, I couldn't find a bit of peace for myself. I was a Santa with no reason to give thanks.

I was miserable by choice. I was angry at God for allowing my life to take such a turn. I felt sorry for myself and wanted everyone to feel my pain. I couldn't deny it. It's easy to give thanks when life is splendid. But giving thanks when life faces dark moments is a priceless message of trust. To my surprise, the anticipation of my reaction to the first holiday without Chad was much greater than the actual emotion I felt. Maybe I cried myself out. Maybe I was numb to the festivities others enjoyed.

Even as the years have passed by, for a brief time every year, the nagging pain of Christmas-past beckons at my door reminding me of where I've been and where I am today. Today, with certainty, I can say, "Facing the holidays is easier; but it's very different." In the darkness of this journey through grief, there are some shining lights. The gifts I've received aren't Santa-given, nor are they purchased in a store. Instead, they are blessings I sometimes take for granted.


  • I am blessed to know that my God is always with me. No matter what I felt or what I said in His presence, He understood. And even today, when I have memory lapses and pity myself, He is there for me. What a friend I have in Jesus!
  • I am blessed because I could choose my attitude, and my choices gave me new options. I still miss the things I'll never have, but I don't ponder them anymore.
  • I am blessed with family and friends who value my commitments and support me beyond a shadow of a doubt. This gives value to what I do.
  • I am blessed because God has given me the gift of writing and I've found a way to use this gift to soothe the pain.|
  • I am blessed with a healthy mind, body, and spirit even though I sometimes take them for granted.
  • I am blessed with the gift of purpose each morning. I like the quote: "God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I'm so far behind, I will never die!"
  • I am blessed that my journey through grief has given me comfort and peace in the presence of many new friends who share my path.


On that first Christmas after Chad died, I purchased a figurine of Santa on bended knee, head bowed, arms folded. It continues to remind me of those early years of holiday grief. Perhaps the craftsman's interpretation was meant to capture the magic of Santa and the miracle of Christmas that brings two stories together to serve a higher purpose. Or maybe it was Santa giving thanks after his arduous task of delivering packages. Or maybe it was just Santa giving thanks that the holiday was finally over this year!

Life is a gift. For my son, Chad, the gift of life was brief. But in the brevity of those 21 years, he lived and touched the lives of many. Most of all, he touched mine. His death uncovered my weaknesses, but the spirit of his being has brought out the music in my soul. I remind myself that it's okay to yearn for the past, but only momentarily. There is much to do in the present.

Our tree sparkles with ornaments that tell the stories of many beautiful Christmases-past. Ornaments that remind me of family who have died. There are silent messages in sparkling angels; stars of hope, and bells of joy. The glitter that lingers on my carpet long after the season remind me that love shines forever in the soul. Our loved ones are not forgotten. They are remembered in the silent choruses of beautiful memories.

With all this to be grateful for, even this Santa can give thanks!

Article is published in the book When the Holidays Hurt by Nan Zastrow

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