“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

– Kahlil Gibran

Holidays can create feelings of dread and anxiety in those who are bereaved. The clichéd images of family togetherness and the often unrealistic expectations of a season filled with picture perfect, joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress for those who are not grieving – let alone those in the midst of the painful, isolating experience of loss. Creating new rituals and new traditions that pay tribute to the memory of the deceased is one way to survive, and perhaps even embrace the holidays when a loved one has died. Here are some suggestions of what you can do:

  • Wrap a favorite keepsake of the deceased or a framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
  • Decorate a wreath with pictures and items relating to the person who died and place the wreath on the grave.
  • Create or purchase a special ornament.
  • Decorate a candle and light it at meal time.
  • Make a book with pictures and memorabilia to share. This is a great activity for children.
  • Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at a holiday meal. Mention their name in the blessing or propose a toast to their memory.
  • Use the money you would have used for a gift for your loved one, and purchase a gift for someone in need.
  • Decorate and hang a cut-out star in your home with your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about your future is part of your healing.
  • Share favorite stories about the person who died.
  • Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the deceased to give to other family members.
  • Make donations to a favorite charity in the person’s honor.

Once you have remembered your loved one, make sure you remember yourself. Take care of yourself. Be gentle. Do what you can do – no more and no less.  If it is too hard to be in the same place where you spent holidays together with your loved one, opt for a change of scenery and go somewhere new. If you cannot afford a vacation, go to a restaurant, or the home of a friend or family member who does not have painful memories associated with previous holidays. Although you can not erase thoughts and memories of the deceased, it may help to embrace them and create a new holiday experience.

Ways to Cope

Have a Plan A/Plan B – Plan A is you go to the Christmas Day or Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends. If it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready. Plan B may be a movie you both liked or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together. Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.

Cancel the Holiday all together. Yes, you can cancel the Holiday. If you are going through the motions and feeling nothing, cancel them. Take a year off. They will come around again. For others, staying involved with the Holidays is a symbol of life continuing. Let the Holiday routine give you a framework during these tough times.

Try the Holidays in a new way. Grief has a unique way of giving us the permission to really evaluate what parts of the Holidays you enjoy and what parts you don’t. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to handle the Holidays in grief. You have to decide what is right for you and do it. You have every right to change your mind, even a few times. Friends and family members may not have a clue how to help you through the Holidays and you may not either.

It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy the Holidays again. They will certainly never be the same as they were. However, in time, most people are able to find meaning again in the traditions as a new form of the Holiday Spirit grows inside of them.