So many of our holiday traditions are family-centered, making it painful to face the holidays after a loved one dies. Despite the pain, some people find it comforting to continue the old traditions that they've enjoyed. Since grief in itself is exhausting, it can be too overwhelming to try and build new traditions when mourning a loved one.

How you choose to handle holidays is a highly personal decision. In the first few months or years, you alone know whether it's comfortable or painful to bake the cookies, make that signature dinner, or hold the annual picnic. As time passes, you may find that life in itself has changed and it feels more comfortable to modify or integrate some new and different traditions.

One friend is widowed and lives with her widowed mom. Their holiday celebrations are much smaller now that it’s just the two of them. Rather than cooking a holiday meal, they usually have dinner with friends or go out to eat. An enormous fresh tree was central to their Christmas celebration, but my friend finds it's too difficult for her alone, so they have a small artificial tree. But they keep the tradition of the Christmas lights, hiring a handyman to put them up.

Another friend was widowed when his two children were teens. He found it helpful that first year to ask his children, "How do you want to do this holiday?" There were holiday traditions that they kept intact because it was just natural to do things they enjoyed. When one child left for college the following year and the family of four became a family of two, life and holidays changed. But the changes felt like a more natural transition. Six years after his wife's death, my friend integrates some of the old traditions into his holidays, just because it feels comfortable.

Memories may be your best guide to the holidays. Determine what makes you feel good and what makes you feel uncomfortable. But there's a difference between being uncomfortable and being sad. As one friend says, "Some people are so concerned about feeling sad. It's okay to feel sad; you've just lost your loved one."


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: Illness & Death, Suicide, and Miscarriage. Additional titles are available as e-books: Death of a Child, Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby, Pet Loss, Caregiver Responsibilities, Divorce, and Job Loss. All titles are in Amazon's Kindle StoreClick here to order.


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Luz

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Comment by Holly Polfuss on January 15, 2012 at 3:19pm

Dear Vicki,  I am so sorry for your loss.  We also lost a beloved daughter suddenly and totally unexpected almost seven years ago .  The grief stays with you but the memories of the good times get more frequent as time goes on.  Our daughter died of an aneurism of the aorta during the night.  We have so much to be thankful for, we had almost 25 wonderful years with Nicki.  She was happy and in a wonderful time of her life, she had accomplished much of what she had set out to do.  She had just gotten engaged to a wonderful guy and was 2 months away from getting her masters in social work.  She had so much going for her and everyone loved her.  She is missed everyday by her family and her friends, but she is up there watching and waiting for the time we all are reunited with her.  Feel your daughters love for you and take comfort in the knowledge that she is well and loved. 

Comment by Joanna Fuerst on January 13, 2012 at 7:40am

Hello , Ive been readin these posts. I have felt alone since Dec 3rd 2009 , My Husband passed away suddenly at the age of 53. We have had 21 Wonderful years togather and 3 Beautiful Daughers .  Our youngest being 8 yrs at the time he died. Never Ever did I think I'd be single mother/widow.. I am young and never saw my self alone ... It hurts so much!!!! Yet I know Roger is ok Now , he's with God now.. I  know that my pain will ever go away.. He was my Rock , I feel so lost , sad , hurt . My girls are very Sad without Daddy here.y miss him so so much . My heart hurts for them .. I know he watching over us , but I will never understand why God took him from our Family. My heart breaks for my girls as well as a piece of me died when my husband passed. We have had alot of things change these past 2yrs . But My heart will never heal .. I try and do one day at time . I thought that the Holidays would get a little bit less hurtful , but things are not any easier. So I thought Id look at his Legacy Book , as the tears started rolling.. I need him here with us .... So  I decided to read these other posts.. Ive realized that we all have a very close loved one.....I'm not the only one , Ive thought It was just me not being able to accecpt losing my soul mate .... I've got to accept that God has his time for all of us..Rather we ready or not.... I sure wasn't ready for my Husband to leave but God had better plans for him ... I'll always love him and miss him everyday . I still hurt so deeply... My heart still aches... I need some extra support , so I'm looking for some Guidence. How do I keep going on  like this ??

Comment by Lisa Davidson on December 21, 2011 at 11:19pm

My boyfriend & I recently overdosed... & he died...
I'm having the hardest time ever dealing with this !!

Comment by Rita Norris on December 21, 2011 at 2:19pm
My mother died in July of 1964 just before I turned 18. If I had known of grief counseling at that time I would have joined. Instead, I grieved tremendously for 20 years until my father died, which gave me comfort for both of them knowing that they were together again. My grieving affected my young marrriage and later my children because they could not always understand my sadness. Fortunately, there will be happy times through the years and you have to embrace them and all who love you. It has always helped me through the years when I lose someone dear to know that my mother is there to greet them, her sweet memory is so special. I am now 65 and I believe that she has looked after me many times when I needed her.
Comment by Samantha on December 17, 2011 at 2:32pm

Rebecca - I have a feeling you are the reason I was brought to this website today.  I don't even know why I clicked on this site.   I usually do not respond or participate in such online discussions but I read your post and my heart just bleeds for you.  I lost my husband too.  It has been almost five years but it was very sudden and we only had six years together.  It was also near the holidays.  He was my EVERYTHING.   You are very numb right now and the best advice I can give you  (besides grieving in any way that you must - and not how the world "thinks" you should grieve) is don't worry about getting through the holidays.  One hour at a time is all you can manage at this point in your grief.   No one should expect you to be "strong".  I wish I could take your pain away - I know it all too well.  I can only hope somehow by my words I can help you or anyone else on this site because of what I have been through.   I am so terribly sorry for everyone's loss who is reading this.

Comment by Mary on December 16, 2011 at 9:24am

My son was shot on December 27, 2009 and died the next day. Thankfully, his murderer was caught and convicted.  He won an appeal and we are now going to have to go through another trial next month.  My mom who was very ill when Drew died, held on for one year and one day after we buried Drew to try to help me.  She died Jan 5 this year.  I really just don't want anything to do with Christmas this year.  Bah humbug.  It has never held the joy for me that it did when my children were little and now I just care less.  I'll be glad when the holidays are over.

Comment by Mary Henderson on December 14, 2011 at 8:09pm

 I appreciated reading your blog, I couldn't agree more that it is ok to feel sad you just lost a loved one. ! I have recently lost my beautiful son in his 20's suddenly and thanksgiving was awful, i didn't want it to come and couldn't wait til it was over, I spent it completely alone thinking and praying and talking to and grieving my son. The same thing for his birthday and mine which followed shortly after. Now the thought of Christmas and New Years is stressful , and I am not in the frame of mind for celebrating, although I will give gifts to my beautiful grandchildren and go to church. I spend lots of time at the cemetery and want to be left alone a great deal of the time. I am forever changed and will always miss my son, my thoughts and prayers to all who have lost a child, thankyou for giving me a place to express my feelings

Comment by Judi on December 11, 2011 at 8:52am

Hello, I lost my mother on November 6, 2011 to leukemia. When she was diagnosed I moved into her home to care for her until the end. We did everything together for years before this and now she is gone and I am lost. I miss her so much and am having a hard time trying to celebrate Christmas this year. My siblings seem to be doing okay but since I still live in her house it is much harder for me. I have 2 granddaughters ages 1 and 3 which I see often which is the greatest but I feel so numb right now and can't be happy like before.

Comment by Rebecca Sheidy Henninger on December 10, 2011 at 11:46pm

Lost my husband 2 days ago.  We've only been married 5 weeks.  I have no idea how I'm going to do xmas or new year's. ugh.

Comment by Dana Gottschaldt on December 7, 2011 at 12:18pm

Vicki - My heart hurts with you.  My 30 year old son died in a car accident 2 weeks after your beautiful daughter passed away.  I echo all the emotions and comments you made, and feel every bit of the pain you express at the loss of a child who is every mother's dream - my son was one of those also and I pray I will go to Heaven very soon so I can see him again.  The hurt is impossible to begin to put into words, and life holds no joy or interest for me - I doubt if it ever will.  I go through the motions automatically, like a robot, but inside I am already dead.

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