Dealing with Grief – The Christmas We Escaped to Disney World

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Dealing with Grief - The Christmas We Escaped to Disney World

After finishing several articles featuring Disney Holiday Planning, I got to thinking about our own Christmas Trip in 2010.  We stayed the week before Christmas and left the day after.  This was my families first time to Disney during the holidays, in fact the first time we had travelled somewhere during Christmas Day.  But for us it was an escape from the real world.  We just couldn’t face a “normal” Christmas after the year we had.  The trip was bittersweet but I would like to share it with all our readers in the hopes that someone else can gain from our experience.

In 2009, My son Andrew had turned 2 and just returned from his first trip to Disney.  We were glowing in the post-Disney euphoria of a perfect trip.  Then we receive the news that my Father-in-Law had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  A year followed with ups and downs, forgotten holidays, illness and fear of the unknown.  To give us a break, we decided to take another trip to Disney for our sons 3rd birthday.  My father-in-law was doing better and although prognosis wasn’t great, we felt he was in better spirits after a tough year.  Within a couple of months of that trip we said good-bye to the person I affectionately called FIL.

My Father-In-Law (aka Dad, aka Grandpa) loved Disney.  He wasn’t a Disney Addict by any means, but had visited the World many times.  He and his wife (aka MIL, aka Grandma, aka Mom) took my husband several times as a young boy.  My husband’s fondest memory is riding Space Mountain with his dad, who I can’t believe even went on the ride in the first place.  After my husband was grown, FIL and MIL went to Disney a couple more times.  Once when his work held a conference there and again for his 70th birthday.  For his birthday they stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and I can just picture him out there with his camera, watching the scene for hours.  He loved animals and rode the Kilimanjaro Safari more times than you can imagine.  I’m pretty sure it took hours to review all his photos from that trip.

So here we had all taken trips to the most Magical Place on Earth, but never together.  We talked about one day going as a whole family after my son came into the picture.  My husband and I casually mentioned how much joy Grandpa would get taking our son on the safari rides.  I truly believe that the magic of Disney is the smile on your child’s face.  The pure joy and innocent happiness that you hope never goes away.  My father-in-law enjoyed watching the smile on his grandson’s face and we imagined a vacation together so he could witness it at Disney.  We never got that chance.

A few months after my FIL passed, we were talking about Christmas.  Both my husband and my Mother-in-law were dreading a holiday without him.  We thought about taking a trip to get away, and somehow those thoughts turned to Disney.  Everyone was on board and we made our plans to go.  We were excited, but apprehensive about this particular trip.  Were we doing the right thing?  Was it wrong to drag my MIL away during this tough time?  Was it wrong to be “celebrating”.

We knew when we landed in Orlando we did the right thing.  My MIL came on a separate flight but met us at our gate.  I knew all was good after seeing my son run into her arms, seeing the relief on her face.  The weeks leading up to the trip had taken a toll on her.  Work parties, Christmas Cards, memories had been more than she could handle.  Now as a family we could escape it all.  The joy in a 3 yr old pulling us through that week.

Surprisingly the magic of Disney touched us all.  We did not have to forget about Christmas, just doing it differently.  We did Osborne Spectacle of Lights, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Character Meals.  My MIL actually took my son on his first ride down Splash Mountain.  I never knew she had it in her!

Yes, there were many moments of sadness.  Our day at Animal Kingdom weighed heavily on our hearts.  The safari ride was quiet and bittersweet.  I so wished then my FIL was with us, have to believe he was.  Camera in hand and smile on his face.  Christmas morning was another tough day.  We went to services at the Contemporary and headed to Epcot for our special meal at Le Cellier.  We did Living with the Land, one of his favorites.  He was on our minds all day, again as we rode the monorail to Contemporary Resort.  He had stayed there with my husband many years ago.  Dinner at Chef Mickeys brought the smiles out again.  We had made it through the day we dreaded, and we were together.

I wanted my FIL to be there with us more than anything.  I wanted to take the pain away for my husband and MIL.  I wanted my son to look up at Grandpa as they rode the safari ride together.  I couldn’t make it happen.  But I knew I did all I could when my MIL said “whoever thought to do this trip, Thank You”.


  • Walt Disney World Resort at Holidaytime Unwraps Festive Traditions (
  • Disney World Quick Tips – Christmas in the Magic Kingdom (
Dealing with Grief - The Christmas We Escaped to Disney World


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14 thoughts on “Dealing with Grief – The Christmas We Escaped to Disney World

  1. All these stories make me tear up. My grandpa left money for my dad to take all five siblings and their families to Disney the year he died. We all stayed in Fort Wilderness cabins in the same loop. We planned one giant breakfast together at The Beach Club but we were always doing things together in smaller units. Some of us did the Candle Light Processional and stayed over Christmas day. That was in 2000. The only other time our entire family has been together since then is for my grandmother’s funeral. My grandparents loved Disney and grandpa knew the importance of the family being together in our favorite vacation spot.

  2. So sorry for the loss of your mom. I think you will find the same thing during Halloween that we found at Christmas. She will be a part of your trip since you will be packing your memories.

  3. I lost my mom on 4-25-12 to Pancreatic Cancer. I am searching for ways to heal myself. I can’t even imagine what Christmas is gonna be like this year. We are planning to go to Disney for Halloween. My wish would be to be able to go for Christmas but it will not happen this year. I am so ready for this trip I hope it helps to ease some of my pain since Disney has been one place I love going & remember going with my mom as a child.

  4. A few years ago my family experienced a terrible situation and we were working to heal. Dear Hubby knew the best place for us to heal was our Happiest Place on Earth. That was 2007 and we booked a surprise trip for our girls. It was an amazing weekend at the Pirate and Princess Party. The fun and laughs helped to bring us together and celebrate our strength.

  5. Lat November I turned 40. I wanted to have as much of my family attend WDW to celebrate with us as possible. I invited my parents, parents-in-law, my siblings & their families. I am SO glad that I did. We are now hoping to have my mil placed on the liver transplant list (new event in the last week). I am SO GLAD that they decided to come with us. I know that no matter how things turn out; we have incredible memories from this trip together. I’d recommend to anyone to take the trip sooner rather than later, because none of us know the number of our days.

  6. We had a trip in memory of my mil in Nov. 2010. She spent her last months with us and one of the things she kept saying was that after she was gone, we should take a trip to WDW. She knew we had a trip planned in 2012 but wanted us to go sooner, “because you just never know what the future holds.” In her final days, when she seemed to be in her own world and unaware of us, she lingered on even though the hospice nurses thought for sure each time they visited that it would be their last visit. One nurse said, “There is unfinished business for her.”
    I started thinking that maybe it was our WDW trip — we hadn’t made a promise to her that we’d go. So I went online and bought tickets. Then I went to her and said, “Opal, I just bought our tickets for Disney.” Her head bobbed up and down once, and an hour later she passed away. I can’t help but think that the unfinished business was that she really wanted us to take this trip and once she knew we would, she was able to let go. Our trip was Nov. 2010 and we often said while we were there, “Thanks, Mom.”
    And the trip that was planned in 2012? We had to cancel it. My mil must have some inside information on that!

  7. Boy you have been a help during a day of massive stress…thanks now I remember why I love the world so much.

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