SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month



Holiday grief affects daughter after abusive father’s death

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says there are ways to try to remember the good and create new memories instead of reliving the bad.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
The Forum
We are part of The Trust Project.

Dear Carol: Both of my parents are deceased. Dad was an alcoholic who verbally abused everyone, and physically abused both of his daughters. Mom never did anything to stop it because she was afraid of him. During therapy, I’ve worked to rediscover my softer feelings for Mom because she was a victim, too, but my memories of Dad are mixed.

They both loved holidays, but Dad made them super fun with decorations and music (until he drank again), so it’s Dad that I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find myself aching for those good times. Before you say it, I do intend to go back to therapy, but I wanted your view though since I read your column during Mom’s long decline. Thank you for whatever advice you can provide. — HS.

Dear HS: You have fun memories of holidays with your dad so you long for that time and probably recall them mostly unsullied by his drinking and abuse. To me, that’s entirely normal. Why wouldn’t you grieve his loss during what you remember as your best time with him?

Since you have had counseling and will likely go again, I’ll simply make some suggestions that might help you restructure your holiday routines. These activities aren’t meant to cover up your grief and longing, but to give you a chance to look beyond it.

  • Celebrate yourself in whatever way feels safest. For example, if your dad loved Thanksgiving turkey or colored lights on a Christmas tree, consider providing a version of that for yourself as a way to cement your good memories. Alternately, if those reminders bring pain, you could create a completely different atmosphere for yourself with perhaps an all-natural theme of greenery decorated with ribbon, nuts, berries and white fairy lights. Play music that brings back your good memories or make a new holiday playlist just for your own pleasure. Reminding yourself frequently that alcoholism is a disease may help, as well. While that doesn’t excuse your dad's behavior, consciously remembering this as part of who he was may make cherishing your good memories easier.
  • Reach out to others. As with everything, how you approach this will depend on what feels safe enough to try. There may be a time for activism in abuse communities someday, but for now, maybe you could volunteer for an organization that collects gifts for children, spend time at an animal shelter or help at a meal kitchen or food pantry. The idea is to get out of yourself enough to remember that while you won’t forget your childhood, you don’t have to continue to live in it.
  • Remind yourself that the popular view of unrestrained joy during the holidays isn’t the reality for most people. You aren’t alone with your complicated feelings, so talking with friends may help.

You are still grieving the deaths of your parents as well as the childhood that might have been — and that’s a heavy load. I’m glad to read that you plan on continuing therapy.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

What to read next
Fentanyl has taken root in Montana and in communities across the Mountain West during the pandemic, after formerly being prevalent mostly east of the Mississippi River, said Keith Humphreys of the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis. Montana law enforcement officials have intercepted record numbers of pale-blue pills made to look like prescription opioids such as OxyContin. Nationwide, at least 103,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, a 45% increase from 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 7 of every 10 of those deaths were from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl.
Support groups, clinics and health classes are published weekly on Wednesdays. Email submissions to by 10 a.m. at least a week in advance.
Life can get stressful if you're constantly annoyed by your coworkers, roommate or partner because they think and do things differently than you do. Some people are super disciplined and others are more flexible. But those differences can be a good thing. In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams talks to a local business person about how his company helps individuals and organizations be more balanced and successful by identifying and elevating personal strengths.
In warm weather, fleas like to set up shop in your pet's fur. Dogs and cats can bring them home after romping around outside with infested friends or in areas where squirrels or other wild animals frequent. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams has tips on how to get rid of fleas on your pet and in your home.