Coping With Loss During the Holidays

Dear Director:

I’ve dreaded the Christmas season ever since my husband died on December 20th two years ago. I just can’t seem to get myself into the spirit. And when I do have a moment of happiness or joy – the guilt comes crashing down. I don’t want bring everyone in my family down during what should be a happy time but what can I do? I miss my husband dearly and the holidays just seem to make it worse – but I need to be strong for the rest of the family. Thanks for taking my question and Merry Christmas.


Joyce M.
Stamford, CT

Dear Joyce:

Thank you so much for your letter and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Unfortunately there’s no way around it; after someone important to you dies the holidays are often never the same again. Traditions, events, food, parties, songs, movies – things that trigger the grief seem to be everywhere. Many people choose to rely on avoidance and denial to get through the season, but there is a different path to take. You can try keeping your loved one’s memory alive by continuing to make them a part of your holiday season. Here are 12 ways to include and remember loved ones during the holidays:

1. Photos: Display old photo albums in a location accessible to holiday visitors. People can’t resist a well-placed photo album. Before you know it you’ll be reminiscing and telling stories with family and friends.
2. Get out the old home videos. Yes you may get emotional, but it also might be comforting to see your loved one up on the TV screen. Another opportunity for storytelling and reminiscing.
3. After a loss it can be hard to part with your loved one’s belongings. The holidays present the perfect opportunity to give away some of these things, especially if you are someone who always wants to make sure that old treasures go to good homes. Wrap up a few of your loved one’s old things and give them to family and friends who you know will appreciate them. Write a card letting the recipient of the gift know why you chose to give them this particular item. I guarantee you they will adore the gift and the sentiment.
4. Donate to a cause in your loved one’s name. Try choosing a charity your loved one would have supported. During the holidays churches and places of worship, local food pantries, homeless shelters, soldiers and their families, nursing homes, and ‘Toys for Tots’ are all very active.
5. When you see a gift your loved one would have liked, go ahead and buy it. Donate it to a charity or give it to someone else as gift.
6. Volunteer your time to others in need. If your feeling lonely, try volunteering at a local retirement home where you can sit and talk to those you are helping. It can truly be a win-win relationship.
7. Light a candle in honor of your loved one. Let it burn when you’re missing them the most.
8. Donate your loved ones old coats to a local coat drive
9. Make a special dish for your holiday meal that was a favorite of your loved one or use your loved one’s old recipe(s) to make holiday cookies or a holiday dinner.
10. Buy or make a memorial ornament.
11. Give a framed photo of your loved one to people who also miss them.
12. Take care of yourself. Attend a grief workshop or support group for people dealing with a loss during the holidays. Remember that your loved one would have wanted you to seek the help you need.

One thing is certain… however you decide to honor your husband’s memory during the holidays – it’s the right way for you. Everyone deals with grief in their own way and in their own time.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.

Leonard W. Santora

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