Christmas Grief; Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

Christmas is not all about cheerful decorations, gleeful gift exchanges, and parties. For some people, Christmas is a difficult time as they process death of a loved one.

If you are here dealing with grief, my heart goes out to your heart, my virtual hugs are real, and I am sorry for your loss. If you are looking for ways to support someone who is dealing with grief, you are an amazing and kind human being. The world needs so many more of those people.

This article covers some ideas to process grief at Christmas. I am not a therapist, or counselor, just someone who cares. The fact is, death sucks, and grief is real.

Table of Contents

Asian woman comforting upset man with hand over face.
Dealing with grief at Christmas: it’s important not to deal with it alone.

Disclaimer: You may, at face value, find this article about Christmas grief on a gift website not appropriate. I bring a unique perspective as I come from a family of morticians. Even my mother, a cosmotologist, worked for the family business. Our conversations growing up involved great pride in serving the grieving family. My family has collected the most wonderful ideas for honoring deceased loved ones. Acts of kindness were a way of life for me growing up, I share those today in this collection of articles to support loved ones who are mourning the loss of a loved one.

Getting through the first Christmas without loved ones

Special days and holidays like Christmas are especially painful and lonely without our loved ones being there. I lost my father in late October, just prior to the holidays. When parents are lost, family roles shift. In addition, Christmas traditions may have to be redefined.

Caucasion oman distracted by thoughts while putting up Christmas Decorations.
Facing the holidays without a loved one is difficult.

Family who have lost children and parents have told me that the worst time is the emptiness after the funeral is over. Grief counselors will tell you that 2-3 months after a death leaves the surviving family in another stage of grief. They find themselves left in the silence of their own thoughts after the initial wave of support ends.

Mayo Clinic even defines “complicated grief” as grief that lingers (which can lead to depression and suicide). Everyone grieves on a different timeline. The website, Grief and Sympathy, has published an article, “10 Reasons Why the Second Year of Grief Can Be The Worst.”

It’s important to continue support, circling back at critical times, including dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.

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Ideas to remember a loved one at Christmas

Just like the funeral, Christmas is an occasion to recognize the loss of a loved one. Finding activities that acknowledge the loss can be comforting.

Here are some holiday grief activity ideas:

  • Journaling.
  • Balloon release in memory of deceased.
  • Praying and reading poems about loss.
  • Setting up a “memory” table (photo, meaningful object, etc.) to include the spirit of the loved one in the home.
  • Build a “thoughts” wall or “prayers closet” – an assigned place to tape up Christmas quotes of a loved one or other powerful messages.
  • Making personalized Christmas tree decorations to remember the deceased.
  • Visiting the grave site.
Elderly woman hanging a red ornament ball on a Christmas tree.
Christmas magnifies the loss of a loved one – a time most people associate with happy memories of being with friends and family.

Memory tables and memory Christmas trees

There are many ways to include the memory of a loved one during the holidays. Just as you put up the Christmas decorations, reserve some physical space in the home for memories.

My cousin set up a small Christmas memory tree in a corner of her house. She hung photos of departed loved ones. Some people may even include small momentos to add to the tree.

If you have special Christmas tree ornaments that belong to them, they should be hung with love on the tree. Although the person is no longer with you, their spirit is.

How to cope with loss at Christmas

Plan to spend time with the person working through grief at Christmas. Sadness can come in waves and the most unexpected times. Attend a Christmas concert with them, drive through holiday lights, or take your loved one Christmas shopping if they are up to it.

If you are dealing with the loss of an infant or child, please refer to this special article on Christmas grief when losing a child and sibling support.

Here is a list of ideas to help someone who is grieving:

Grandpa decorating Christmas tree with grandchildren.
The holidays may look different than they have in the past for the first Christmas without a loved one.

When a coworker lost her boyfriend in a tragic accident, another coworker started taping up inspirational quotes by her desk on the wall. It grew over time – she could not avoid looking up and seeing something to carry her through the day.

You will have to gauge their interest – it is normal to not have the same level of passion for the holidays as in the past. Give your loved one the space, time, and permission to grieve. The Christmas that you share with them might just be toned down. If that is what they need, give that to them.

“Grief at the Holidays” support programs

Quite coincidentlaly, I opened up my local newspaper and there was an article promoting grief support programs during Christmas.

When you think of the weeks that the holidays extend, everyday is a reminder of your loss. I greatly encourage you to share this idea with a family member or friend. I think back and realize that I never fully understood what my mom was feeling from the viewpoint of losing a spouse. Now, I would have encouraged her to join a support group.

Grief support group.
Processing Christmas grief is unique; finding a support group can relieve some of the sadness.

Those grieving feel more connected with their peer group. In addition, sharing a situation of grief survivors feel in common can be comforting:

  • widow/widower/spouse grief support group
  • parent grief support group
  • loss of baby/child support group
  • teenage grief support group
  • sibling grief support group
  • pet/dog grief support group
  • cancer grief support group
  • suicide grief support group

The particular program I read about shared coping strategies and providing a safe space for questions, answers, and sharing. Programs were free and “open to a person who is special to them.” No pre-registration was required.

It was also pointed out that deaths did not need to be hospice related (I’m sure that is a common question). The program was also convenient, offered at multple locations in my community and online.

Prayers for departed loved ones at Christmas

The first Christmas without Dad, my family gathered at my mom’s house, as always. A nice meal was put forth, as always. Just like the year before, our large family lined up to start the procession through the buffet line.

I assumed my mom would say something or start a prayer, but she did not. It was then that I realized that I needed to acknowledge the huge void of my dad’s absence from Christmas. Somewhere I found the words and stumbled through, thanking God for watching over us and helping us heal as we missed Dad.

African American family saying a prayer before the Christmas meal, remembering deceased loved ones.
Remembering deceased loved ones in prayer before the Christmas meal is an opportunity for closure.

My new role was defined, and from then on, I became the person who led the prayer at every meal. Years later, my mother-in-law passed away. Surprisingly, my father-in-law stepped into the role of giving thanks before family meals. His prayer is simple and respectful:

“God bless (name) and all of our loved ones who cannot be with us today.”

His prayer is nice because it addresses loved ones in heaven, and the family who physically could not be present for the meal. If you will lead prayer before meals, you can think in advance the special words to say, or just speak from the heart.

Acknowledging the deceased family member can be done before the Christmas meal, or before unwrapping presents. If your family has a special tradition, such as lighting the tree, words and blessings can be said then.

Each person can be invited to share a special memory, especially the good times. Christmas is the perfect time to start new traditions of remembering our deceased loved ones

In conclusion

I feel honored to connect with you and share my thoughts about Christmas grief. In some small way, I hoped I helped you to process your own loss of a loved one, or to help those in your life heal.

Death is part of life. It must not be ignored, but dealt with. Your pain and sad feelings are real and run deep. If you become crippled by these feelings, or a friend is, help them to seek professional help.

Helping someone heal from the loss of a loved one is the greatest gift that you can give.

Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!