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Christmas after the death of a loved one

Published: December 2, 2020

This has been a confusing and challenging year for everyone. But, for those who have experienced the death of someone they loved, the approaching holidays pose additional challenges.

For these folks facing this special time of the year without their spouse, sibling, parent, child, or dear friend, the season comes with mixed feelings. Poignant is the perfect word to describe the combination of emotional, touching, heartbreaking, and nostalgic. It is a mixed bag of normal feelings that can fester if ignored or spoil everyone’s holiday joy if allowed to build up and explode unexpectedly. 

What works best is to just take the bull by its horns as they say. Plan for how you will include your loved one in your holiday observance. First, decide if this will be something done alone or in the company of others who share your loss. Remembering and honoring the memory of your loved one can be as simple and solitary as a prayer whispered at the grave or in church or as inclusive as memory sharing time with family and friends. 

If your plan includes something like a public toast before dinner be sure you have let other sensitive family members know in advance what you would like to do. As you are preparing your words—and it is a good idea to prepare—focus on the joy, love, or contributions the person who died brought to you and the family. Sharing memories of love and joy will usually enhance the holiday spirit. On the other hand, should one not prepare and fall into focusing on the feelings of loss and sadness that most surely are felt, there is a risk of spoiling the day. Focus on the person who has died rather than on your own feeling of loss. It is not that your feelings are not important, they most definitely are, it is just best if they are shared with a trusted confidant who expects to be comforting you rather than attending a celebration of the holiday.

Some things you can do to bring a much-loved person to the celebration of the holiday include serving his or her favorite food, or singing their favorite carol, or watching their favorite holiday movie. Consider making a little ceremony of passing on their “holiday job” to the next in line. Who will carve the ham, make the gravy, or read The Night Before Christmas? Pass the torch with a nostalgic remembrance of the deceased and an acknowledgment of the importance of the job by insuring it will continue in your holiday tradition.

With a little advance thought and preparation, remembering someone who was loved and died will add to the joy of the holiday celebration.

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