Grieving Through the Holidays
6 ways to honor your loved one through the season
Losing a loved one to death is hard, and the holidays seem to intensify the emotions that come along with grieving. Grief is the counterpart to love. So, if we love, we will naturally grieve. The holidays are a time for love, a time for family, a time to celebrate together. When someone is no longer physically present, the joy of the season can be lost. What once was an enjoyable event can be excruciating. In the article below, I will share my story as well as some tips for grieving through the holidays.
The difference between grief and mourning
Those who mourn well, grieve well. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder of the Center of Life and Loss Transition, explains that there is a difference between grief and mourning. He explains that grief is what we think and feel on the inside when someone we love passes away. Examples include fear, loneliness, panic, pain, anxiety, emptiness, etc. Where mourning is the outward expression of our grief. It is grief gone public. We mourn by crying, talking about our loved ones, journaling, listening to music, attending grief groups, going to counseling, drawing, etc. Mourning allows you to bring the hurt of internal grief, to the outside, so the healing process can begin.
Since you cannot escape the holidays, it is helpful to think of ways you can publicly mourn that brings recognition to your loved one and comfort to you. In 2013, my 24-year-old daughter, Kaylie, passed suddenly from an epileptic seizure. Sadly, nine months and 2 days later, on March 7, 2014, my 20-year-old son, Tyler, passed tragically in a car accident. I remember the fear and anxiety that took over my body as the holidays approached. Without my children, I didn’t want to celebrate. I had no desire to get together and have two people I loved so dearly missing. But, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t wish the holidays away. They were coming.
The first few holidays, birthdays and anniversaries were the toughest. As the years go on, the sting of my kids not being here has subsided a bit, but the sadness remains. To this day, we mourn as a family by including their memory into our celebration.
6 tips for grieving through the holidays:
- Have each person write their favorite memory, or memories, of their loved one. You can put them in a container or even pull them out of their Christmas stocking and read the memories as you celebrate Christmas.
- Get an inexpensive helium tank and have a balloon release outside. Have a little music playing and say a prayer together.
- Decorate a small tree with things that remind you of them. If your loved one had a collection of key chains or necklaces, for example, you could use these to decorate the tree.
- Light a candle, display a picture and play some music that heals your heart.
- Prepare a meal and intentionally make all their favorite dishes.
- Start a new tradition and have the celebration at a different location.
The ideas listed above may be helpful to you, and they may not. Each person is on an individual grief journey and will have to do what works best for them. I think the most important thing for me in grieving through the holidays is to focus on the season and what it represents. It's not about the presents, the tree, cards, food, or even the gatherings. Christmas is about a Messiah being born who would one day save us from this world. Each day, I thank God for sending His Son to walk amongst us, for forgiving our sins, and for the gift of Salvation. The promise of eternal life gives me hope. I am grateful for the gift of my children, and that I will see them again. They are celebrating Christmas in Heaven this year, and that brings me great comfort.
Last updated December 12th, 2023
About the author
Deb Hadley, the Bereavement Manager at Knute Nelson Hospice, holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree of Education, Death and Grief Certification, and Grief to Gratitude Coaching Certification. With a diverse background as an Educator, Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, Hospice Spiritual Care Provider, and now Hospice Bereavement Manager, Hadley is passionate about guiding individuals through grief.
Driven by personal experience through the loss of her children, Kaylie and Tyler, she believes in the possibility of healing after deep pain. Her journey from loss to purpose fuels her commitment to helping others find joy and meaning. Grounded in faith, Hadley integrates Christian values into her work, bringing connection to those she serves.
Residing in Alexandria with her husband Scott, Deb cherishes family, enjoying lake life, playing guitar, and finding inspiration in the Bible. Her story exemplifies resilience, faith, and the transformative power of helping others navigate grief.