I’ve never been good at the holidays. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Christmas is a time when the ghosts of my past are most likely to find me. But last year was different: I lost my mom on Thanksgiving Day. The day before she died, we had spent a few hours together, laughing and reminiscing about old times. It was one of those rare moments in life when everything feels right with the world—and then it all changed forever. That night, I had trouble sleeping because I kept thinking about how much she meant to me and how much more there would be without her here on this earth anymore…
And then something happened that made me feel even worse: The next morning, instead of waking up to the smell of coffee brewing in our kitchen like usual—which would have reminded me that Mom was still here among us—I woke up alone; there wasn’t even any coffee leftovers in the pot! After getting dressed for work (something else Mom usually did), I sat down at our dining room table for breakfast as if this were just another normal day but couldn’t help but notice things weren’t going according to plan…”
Leaving your loved one’s favorite seat at the table empty.
We know it can sometimes be difficult to find the right words when someone has passed away, or when a loved one is no longer with us. That’s why we asked Dr. Susan Silverman, author of Death in the Family: Healing Your Grieving Heart and creator of the Grief Recovery Method™, for her advice on how best to honor your loved ones during the holidays.
Here are five thoughtful ways you can pay tribute:
- Leave their favorite seat at the table empty this year. “This creates a space for them to come home in,” says Dr.* Silverman.* “I recommend not sitting there yourself, either; it’s important to allow this space for them.”*
- Put out photos of your special times together as part of your holiday decorations—maybe even leave a candle burning nearby as an extra reminder of their presence.*
- Use mementos or sentimental items associated with each person you miss to personalize each place setting at dinner—or even create an entire table full of memories from throughout their lives! This might include photographs or drawings they made (especially if they were kids), pieces from gifts they gave you over the years…anything that makes sense given your relationship.*
- If possible, try carrying on traditions that involve those who have passed away — perhaps by cooking a dish that was always popular among friends and family members who have died — remembering all those who participated along with those enjoying it now
Answering questions about your loved one.
If you are asked about your loved one, try to avoid getting too emotional. You may be tempted to get angry or defensive. And if someone says something that makes you sad, or even happy, it is important not to reveal these emotions.
Volunteering to help others in need.
Volunteering to help others can be a great way to feel connected, or at least feel like you’re contributing to the world. It’s also therapeutic in its own way; when you’re helping someone else, it gives you a sense of purpose and makes your own problems seem smaller. It can even make it easier for you to see the good things about your situation when there are so many other people who have it worse than you do—and that’s something we could all use during this time of year!
Some ways volunteering is helpful:
- You get out of the house and into an environment that isn’t filled with all things Christmas (which might be making things worse).
- You get some fresh air, which is always good for the soul (even if it’s freezing cold outside).
- You meet new people and build relationships with them—this can be especially helpful if any of those relationships turn into friendships.
Knowing that it’s OK to not be OK.
You’re allowed to be sad. You’re allowed to cry. You’re allowed to miss them. It’s also okay if you don’t want to celebrate for the holidays, or if you have a bad day.
You are not alone in how you feel, and there is no shame in being honest about it with your friends and family members who love you and understand what it’s like when someone close has passed on.
Giving yourself permission to grieve.
As the holidays approach, it’s important to remember that grief is a process. It doesn’t happen in a linear way or at a fixed pace; it can be overwhelming and confusing, but always important and real. You are not alone in your experience of loss, and you don’t have to be perfect or handle your grief perfectly.
Grief affects everyone differently, but there are some common experiences for those who have lost loved ones:
- Sadness and loneliness–for example, feeling sad when Christmas music comes on the radio or getting choked up when watching a movie about Christmas (or just thinking about what used to be)
- Anger–for example, being angry with yourself for still feeling depressed even though it has been months since your loved one passed away
- Confusion–for example, not knowing how to feel about Christmas without your loved one around
Visiting your loved one’s grave, if possible.
Visiting the graves of loved ones is a very personal thing. If you can, then by all means, do it! It may not be easy to get there and back (especially if your loved ones are far away), but if it’s something that would bring you comfort, then it’s worth it. If you can’t visit their grave, try going somewhere else in their memory instead: maybe take a walk along a favorite path or go see that movie they were talking about seeing when they were alive.
If the weather is bad where your loved one is buried and won’t allow for visiting later on in the season (or if you don’t want to travel), there’s no need for despair—you can still honor them with an act of remembrance right here at home! Consider setting up some sort of shrine/memorial space with photos, mementos and other items connected to them; this could be as simple as hanging photos on your refrigerator door with magnets or taping them onto bulletin boards around your house.
Taking a moment of silence during a family gathering.
Taking a moment of silence during a family gathering can be a way to honor your loved one.
While you’re waiting for everyone to sit down and eat, you can ask the host or hostess if they would be okay with taking a moment of silence. You could say something like: “I’d like to take one minute in memory of my grandmother who passed away last year.”
Then everyone should be quiet for 60 seconds, counting with their hands as they go (1-2-3…).
If you’re missing a loved one during the holidays, know that you’re not alone—and there are ways to cope with the grief.
If you’re missing a loved one during the holidays, know that you’re not alone. There are ways to cope with the grief and memories of lost loved ones:
- Know that it’s OK to feel sad and remember your loved one. You may be feeling sad or angry at times because they’re not with you anymore. It’s normal and healthy to think about your feelings and talk about them with friends or family members who understand what you’re going through.
- Talk about your loved one with friends and family members who understand what you’re going through so they can help lift your spirits when they see how much their presence meant to you on Thanksgiving Day (and beyond).
- Spend time with other people who are grieving in order to connect over shared experiences while also helping each other heal from sorrows felt throughout the year—including during this holiday season!
The holidays can be hard, but they don’t have to be. You never know what might help lift your spirits. If a family gathering is too much for you right now, think about doing something else instead. If attending church services at all is too much for you right now—it’s OK! That doesn’t mean that God isn’t there; it just means He understands and loves you even more than ever before because He knows what you’re going through right now.