The holiday season is not always greeted with happy anticipation.  Some families are faced with the realization that a loved one is no longer present to enjoy the celebrations.  The sadness overshadowing Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah makes it difficult to carry on as usual.  Grief does not go away just because the holidays arrive and, in fact, the feelings may intensify.

Traditions may be adjusted to help the family cope.  It may be too hard to see the Christmas tree in the same spot as your loved one set it up each year.  Perhaps sitting at their dinner table with one seat empty is too much to bear and the celebration needs to be moved to another person’s home.  As long as everyone can express their needs and compromises can be reached, you can navigate the holidays in a healthy way.

When a loved one has died, there are ways that you can still incorporate their memory into your holiday plans.  By involving your children in these projects, they can feel as if they have an important role to play and work out their emotions by taking positive actions.

Here are some ideas to get your started:

  • Share a story – spend time talking about your loved one.  Recall the ways they used to celebrate the holidays.  Take time at the Thanksgiving table to state one reason why you are grateful for having had this person in your life.  By focusing on the good times, it helps you to remember that the pain will subside in time and the loving memories will remain.
  • Cook a memory meal.  Forget the traditional menu and create a meal consisting of your loved one’s favorite recipes.  Bring your child or other family members into the kitchen and let them learn how to prepare each dish.  Taste and smell are powerful memory triggers and the kitchen will give you a way to step back into your treasured times together.
  • Go through old photo albums and create a memory book of holidays past.  Scan the photos into the computer and create an album showing gatherings over the years. Print and pass out copies of your memory book when the family gathers. This is a gift that you can give which will be cherished for generations to come.
  • If you decorate a Christmas tree, select a special ornament that reminds you of your loved one.  Gather everyone around and place this in a special spot and share why you chose this particular ornament. If you would like, let each family member choose an ornament and place them all on the tree.
  • In the spirit of the holidays, share your blessings. Buy a gift that you would have given to your loved one and give it to a local charity to distribute to someone in need instead.
  • If you cannot afford to purchase a gift, then give of your time. Volunteer at a local agency as a way to honor your loved one.  Even young children can color a holiday card and drop it off at an area nursing home.
  • Finally, if your loved one has been placed in a cemetery, decorate the grave. Go to a craft store and make a holiday wreath.  Purchase a clay pot and paint, decorate it and fill it with silk poinsettias or other flowers to beautify their grave.

Take time during the busy holiday season to remember your loved one. You cannot push the grief away and, in taking positive action, you can incorporate your loved one into the season.  It may not turn the holidays happy, but these ideas can help to make them a little bit better.