Grieving the Holidays as a Family


CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​Holidays can be intense.  TV ads, music on the radio, store displays and parties can be overwhelming and when you are grieving the death of a loved one, it can be even more stressful.  Navigating grief as a family adds to the complexity. 

Everyone grieves a little differently. Maybe mom frequently cries, feels sad and wants to talk about the loss. Or dad tries to be stoic, not talk about it, and can’t even look at pictures yet. The teen in the family just wants to be left alone, but is struggling with schoolwork and the feeling of apathy. The youngest child vacillates between feeling sad and missing the loved one and acting like nothing happened and wanting to play with friends. Don’t despair; just as we react in individual ways, there are many ways to honor each family member’s grief.

Rituals during the holidays can help a family honor the loved one who has died. Some families light a candle and keep it on the table while they have the holiday meal. Others will light it early in the day, saying a prayer or sharing special memories of their loved one.

Sometimes families cook their loved one’s favorite food, set a place at the holiday table for their deceased loved one, put a picture of him or her on the table, or have everyone share a special memory about the person during the meal. All of these are ways to acknowledge the elephant in the room at holiday time: that a special person has died and life isn’t the same anymore.

Visiting the cemetery around the holidays is another way to connect the family in their grief. Remember, though, that while it is comforting for many people, others find going to the cemetery triggers such intense feelings that they can’t make the trip. Don’t force them; give them time and honor their grief process.

Sometimes staying home for the holidays after a loved one dies is too intense. Some families have found it is helpful to get away. This can lessen the difficulty of the first holiday. Taking a little vacation from grief and the holiday traditions can be the break that is needed. Often families change some of their holiday traditions or begin new ones. This can also help ease the pain.

Remember that everyone in the family has a right to grieve in his or her own way. Support one another, but respect individual grief needs. Holidays and grief are difficult at best, but when a family is able to acknowledge their feelings during this time, the heavy burden of grief can be lessened.

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