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 Cynthia Correll on December 7, 2011 at 9:56am
Vicki - my heart hurts for you.
Tomorrow is 4 years that my sister heard the horrid words that her youngest son at 21 had been killed in a car accident. She has times when her world crashes (now is one of them) and then on a bright sunny day a butterfly will alight on her arm at a special moment and there he is. I do not know how she bears it - he has friends that lift her up and love him greatly. We celebrate him often and always will. Your daughter is beautiful. She loves you too. Please be kind to yourself, grieve when you need to - smile when you think of her and her yellow dot - love her always - and listen for her voice. I believe mothers and their children have a bond that not even death can take away.
Comment by Vicki Blue Brinker on December 5, 2011 at 4:19pm

This is a picture of my 31 year old daughter that died within 5 days of my knowlege of her having viral cardiomyopothy. (A fatal heart virus.)  I really do not know how to do this.  I continue with life, but it is not really living.  She died August 15, 2011.  I will never heal, I just need to know how to bear this.  She has her hair cut short because she cut it when one of her friends was going through cancer chemo therapy to show her support.  The put a yellow dot of paint on her nose.  I loved this child more than life.  She was good & giving, smart, loving, and talented.  I miss her beyond words.  All I ever wanted was a child like her.  My life is so sad, painful & empty now.  I wait to see her in heaven.  I hurt beyond words.

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