Twelve Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Loss

Why write about loss and grief during the holidays?

Nobody wants to talk or even think about grief this time of year.

The focus should be on the festivities and good times, right? 

While it’s true, talking about loss and grief is always difficult; it can be even tougher this time of year. However, the reality is that death and grief do happen, even during the holidays. All one has to do is turn on the news to know there is no reprieve from bad things happening this month. Illness and accidents still happen. Diseases continue to be diagnosed and treatments carry on. Lives begin and end in December too.

If you have recently experienced a loss, (or even not that recently), the holidays can be truly daunting as you wonder how in the world you will maneuver your way through them without falling apart or spoiling everyone else’s good times. You might even have started dreading the holidays as the first leaves started to drop off early last fall. The period from September right down to the end of the year can be very difficult for some.

Add to that, the seasonal change of lessening daylight hours and more darkness, perhaps it’s no wonder this period can be the most difficult of all for the recently (or not so recently) bereaved. The holidays may also unexpectedly trigger memories of losses experienced years ago.

Sometimes the anticipation of the holidays (or any special occasion) can be worse than the actual days themselves. Not knowing how one will react to them, or expecting the worst, can cause extreme sadness, anxiety or dread.

Three years ago, my family received the devastating news that my mother’s cancer had metastasized to her liver and that her prognosis was bad. Very bad. In fact, we received this news on Christmas Eve day. Each Christmas that has followed has been very different than the ones preceding her death.

My mother’s Christmases were events she planned the entire rest of the year. They were actual productions, filled with more decorating, baking, cooking, eating, shopping, gift giving and visiting than anyone else’s I’ve ever witnessed. Learning how to celebrate the holidays without her took some doing. We are still trying to figure it out. I’m not sure we ever will, or even should.

Here are 12 tips that might be helpful:

  1.   The main thing to remember is just like everyone grieves differently, how you feel about the holidays will also be as individual as you are. They might not even BE difficult for you. Sometimes ordinary days are hardest, not holidays.

 2.   Perhaps most importantly, acknowledge that the upcoming days or weeks might be really hard. Stating that out loud, even to just yourself, validates it somehow making it more OK to accept your own feelings.

  3.  Decide what you want to do this year. Do you want to continue traditions or do you want to begin new ones? Or perhaps a combo?

 4.   Do something specific for your loved one. Some people like to light a candle, display a particular ornament in a special place each year, make a donation in their loved one’s name or volunteer someplace the loved one would have chosen or cared about.

  5.  Talk about your loved one by sharing memories and stories about them, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Remembering honors them and keeps them with you in a very real sense.

  6.  Set realistic expectations for yourself. If you don’t feel like doing cards, don’t. If you don’t feel like baking, don’t. If your house isn’t the cleanest, so what?

  7.  Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and eating properly. Remember grieving is taxing physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s just plain hard work and it really does tire you out.

  8.  Try to exercise every day. The benefits are pretty obvious, but worth saying anyway. Exercise relieves stress, helps deter depression and improves your self-esteem.

  9.  As much as possible, surround yourself with people who love and support you no matter what your state of mind. In other words, hang out with people who allow you to be real. Those people are the true holiday gifts.

10.  If you need help, ask for it. If you can’t manage with daily chores, shopping or whatever it might be, it’s alright to ask someone to help you.

11.  There is now an actual clinical term called “complicated grief.” Kind of a silly name in my opinion, because all grief is complicated. Simply put, it means there is no diminishing of your grief with time. You can’t stop mourning or begin to move on. If you are experiencing this, you probably need professional help. Ask for it. You can find more information on this topic at Mayo Clinic’s website.

12.  Remember most people eventually enjoy the holidays again. Hang on to that hope. You will get there. Also, experiencing some nostalgic or sad moments is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s part of life after loss.

This list is in no way complete, but thinking about these suggestions may perhaps be helpful to some. I hope so.

I’m curious about what has been helpful for others, so I hope you’ll consider sharing a comment or suggestion.

As Christmas rapidly approaches at my house, excitement builds even with grown-up children. Memories abound, some painful, but most of them wonderful. My house, too, is probably overdone with decorations, many of them gifts I received from my mother through the years. The ornament in this post’s featured image ties in perfectly. It’s a bit nostalgic, picturing a child eagerly waiting for Santa; and it’s a gift from you guessed it, my mother.

Other posts about grief and the holidays you might be interested in reading:

There Will Be Tears At Christmas,

Grief & the Holidays, 10 Tips that Might Help

What do you do during the holidays, or any day, to remember loved ones no longer with you?

What are your suggestions for helping the bereaved get through the holiday season?

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Twelve tips for getting through the holidays after loss #grief #loss #holidays

91 thoughts to “Twelve Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Loss”

  1. Nancy,

    This post is to the point, and yes it does not cover all possible suggestions, but you have a great big part of the iceberg.

    As you know, my daughter died 4 years ago, and the holidays can and are very difficult times for me. Rachel loved anything to do with celebrations, family and friends, and the holidays were no exception. As a mother, I find myself donating to others in need in her name, I hang her stocking filled with candy and small toys for the children in our family, and the ornaments bearing her name get a prominent place on the tree.

    The most important thing for me is sharing Rachel with others, telling her story, and all she loved and believed in.

    Your loved one is and always will be a very important person in your life. They may no longer be present, but the love is very much alive.

    Cherish the legacy they left you, and live your life as they would want you to. If you need to cry, by all means grab that box of tissues, and let them flow. I quoted a 4-year old once, whose advice was the best I could ask for, ‘crying makes the hurt go away…’

    Wishing you a blessed Christmas, filled with love, laughter and joy.

    Rose Mary xoxoxo

    1. Rose Mary, Thanks for your input on this topic that you are all too familiar with. I’m glad you have found some things to do in Rachel’s memory that bring you some peace. Wishing you a blessed Christmas as well.

    2. Since my mother has been gone our holidays have changed so much over the course of years. My mom loved Chinese Food, especially a place called the Mandarin. They have a great buffet. For the first few years we would all bundle up meet at the Mandarin have a great night leave stuffed like a fat cabbage lol. Now we can never find time. Some are going here others another place and my step-dad has changed his religion so he no longer celebrates.. I miss those family days. MY bio dad has been gone one year on the 21st of DEC. Again we start the first without him…

      1. Alli, Thanks for reading and taking time to share your thoughts at this busy time of year. It’s nice you have those memories of your mom and special family times. Sorry to hear about the recent loss of your bio dad. This holdiay season without him now, too, must feel so different for you. I hope you have a happy holiday, despite the fact it will not be quite the same.

      2. Lost my mum to cancer last year, dad & I last Christmas carried on all our traditions in her honour thought it was hard. On 25/9/18 I also lost my dad following surgery. I’m dreading Christmas but my partner & I are going to honour them both by having Christmas in my family home & upholding my family traditions. I know I’m going to be very sad but hope I can get some comfort from it. Do you have any tips that might help during this time?

        1. Dawn, I am very sorry about your recent losses. The holiday season will be rough, but hopefully upholding some of the traditions will also bring some comfort. I hope so. Remember it’s okay to feel sad during the holidays too. And happy. And any way you happen to feel. This post might have a few more tips. And there likely will be tears, and that’s okay.

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  2. I try not to dwell on my sister’s passing. When my sister passed away from Lung Cancer I started a memorial garden in her honor. That garden has grown into a magical, peaceful place. What started with a Peach Tree has now developed into a tropical showcase. The garden shows that there is beauty after death. I have taken over 5000 pictures of the flowers, fruit, trees and vegetables. I post them daily on my website. Please read the comments from people who have been touched by the garden’s beauty and the message. you will find the most recent photos and comments in photo gallery 1

    1. dalesgarden, Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I’m sorry for the loss of your sister. In her memory you have created something lovely that also helps others.

  3. Nancy, I am so sorry for the loss of your Mother and, in particular, the time that you received the news. I lost my Mother to endometrial cancer less than one month before Jeremy’s accident.
    These years Christmas is difficult as my family tradition has always been to make the favourite Christmas cake to be posted in time for Christmas eating. There were also the ceramic Christmas ornaments for the tree. One for each grandchild with the idea they would be taken with the children when they left home and made their own way in life. This year I had to get the services of a scribe to write on Christmas cards. I am having to find new ways of creating traditions within the family.
    Thinking of you.

    1. Chez, Thanks for commenting so kindly, Chez. Again I want to say how sorry I am for your tragic back-to-back losses. It is hard to change old traditions sometimes, but we also must adapt I guess. I’m glad you found someone to write your cards. Take care.

    2. Cheryl, I just lost my mother – June 2, 2014, to endometrial cancer also. She was my best friend. I didn’t even consider the fact that she might die, when she was diagnosed in 2013. I was just focused and getting her better. Then after a surgery in May, she took a turn for the worse. My siblings and I are not close, and I am the oldest. Mom was at my house for every holiday, and the would not attend. I cooked a big dinner for my husband and daughter, my oldest daughter did not come. I am sad, I miss her. I just want to talk with her for a little while. I was not ready for her to leave me. When I knew she was getting worse, I discharged her from the hospital. I wanted her to be home. My dad was home, with us when he passed away 34 years ago. I sat by her side until she took her last breath. I had to tell her she could go. When she got home, she never opened her eyes. I was so mad that God wouldn’t let her open her eyes so that she could see me, my siblings and her grandchildren. She was just laying there. I wanted them to feed her, but hospice wouldn’t. I wanted her to get better, she didn’t.

      1. Lawanna, I’m very sorry about your mother. No one is ready for this loss and your mixed emotions are very ‘normal’. Your loss is very recent and still very raw, so be gentle with yourself. Again, I’m sorry.

  4. Hi Nancy, my issue with the holidays is thinking how much my mom would have loved to share it with her grandchildren. I’m sad my boys will never get to experience that, but I talk about her and I’m trying to give the boys a good sense of who she was. It’s hard, they’re still young, but I like to talk about her.

    Funny, it’s not the holidays so much that bother me, but occasionally even 10 years later, it’s the ordinary stuff; walking through a mall, driving somewhere, different things set if off, but it feels like a punch coming from nowhere and I’ll wallow for a bit.

    Thanks for the post. I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family!

    1. Stacey, I’m sure it does make you sad thinking of your boys growing up never knowing your mom “first hand.” However, they will still come to know her from all the stories and memories you share with them about her, even more so as they get older. I agree, ordinary stuff is often what I miss most too.

  5. Nancy,
    Sometimes I think I have “yo-yo” grief: One day, I’m positive, happy and looking forward to the future, and the next day, the simplest of things make me wonder whether my breast cancer will return. Like all of us, the death of Elizabeth Edwards hasn’t helped my frame of mind. I’ve never been a negative, glass half-empty person, so I’ve been reviewing some of the possible culprits that have contributed to my yo-yo state of mind.

    This Fall’s cumulative, non-stop breast cancer awareness events have stopped. That’s a good thing. I need a break. “Hell Month,” is what the BC veteran organizations call it, and they’re right, except they didn’t tell me it lasts through November as well.

    I’ve decided not to attend another breast cancer symposium. That’s a good thing as well. They’re depressing, plus I sometimes wonder if it’s possible to know “too much” about breast cancer. There’s a lot of info from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium I wish I hadn’t heard, because I was much more optimistic about my own chance of recurrence before I attended.

    My New Year’s resolutions are to up my trust in God a huge notch; stop being a news junkie and to return to my core mission statement of empowering breast cancer families with Survivorship skills. Actually, I’m feeling better already:)

    Merry Christmas, sweet lady,

    1. Brenda, It sounds to me like you do need a break from all the advocating and information gathering you do on behalf of all of us. Also, I agree the death of Elizabeth Edwards rattled us all. Take some time to slow down over the holidays and tend to yourself. Sounds like you have a couple of good resolutions in mind there. Merry Christmas to you as well, Brenda.

  6. It’s important to take the time to share memories of the person. Here’s one of mine:

    When I was spending my first Christmas away from our family because of my job at the time, my grandma mailed me this HUGE box of every single kind of cookie you can imagine, all the cookies she normally makes but was unable to share with me at her house. She mailed chocolate star cookies, sugar cookies, krumkake, rosettes, fudge, caramels, gingerbread cookies, spritz and probably a few other kinds I’m forgetting. She made me feel extra special even though I was unable to visit her on Christmas. She also mailed a toy for my kitten which he still has and still plays with five years later.

    That’s just one of the MANY things she did for me.

  7. Yep, very few, if any, were broken. They were in Tupperware containers with foil around them so they were fresh. And then she had bubblewrap around the containers, I think.

  8. Last year my best friend started hospice for MBC and having it in her liver was so sad. She was so brave about it, but her tummy was filled with water and we ordered pregnant women’s clothes to make her more comfortable. Luckily we had a special Christmas as her caretaker helped her make a day for out of us to gather around her table. She was so happy that day. I am so sorry about your mother and I appreciate the way your beautifully written post reminded me of the bittersweet holiday time.

    1. Susan, I know you really were there for your friend. I’ve read your posts about that. I’m so sorry for your loss. You have her little dog now, right? How wonderful that you took her beloved pet. Thanks so much for your kind words about my mother. And thanks for reading my posts and taking time to comment. It means a lot.

  9. I have to say that I’m having a very difficult time as this holiday season approaches. I lost my mom in november 2011, my 22 year old son in december 2011 and my dad in july 2012. I have three younger brothers that i’m not very close too at all. I had a second family that I love very much. This family was my girlfriend, her three daughters, her mother and nine grandkids. I considered them my own family. Well after seven years our relationship ended a couple months ago. I feel completely devastated. The only thing that keeps me going is my relationship with the girls and the grandkids. I just don’t know what i’m going to do for thanksgiving and christmas. I will not be tbetr with the family. I’m afraid to be alone.

    1. Bert, I’m very sorry about all your losses. You’ve had far too many and your feelings are understandable. I’m sorry you are feeling so devastated. Give yourself time to heal emotionally. I hope you can find someone to speak with about your losses. You don’t have to be alone, not completely. Perhaps reaching out to your brothers is an option to reconsider now… Or volunteering somewhere to help others who are alone. I hope you find some healing.

  10. Hi Nancy,

    I stumbled across this post while trying to find books and articles on how to get through the holidays following a loss. Thank you so much for the helpful tips and validation.

    My husband and I lost our daughter Marianne in late August when I was 5 months pregnant. Her estimated due date was Christmas day. Holidays are going to be tough this year, to say the least.

    What makes the situation even more complex is that my mother has an aggressive (and malignant) brain tumour; she has thankfully outlived her prognosis by over 3 years, but we still don’t really know what will happen from one year to the next. She really enjoys the holidays and is trying to be joyful and encouraging despite us all still trying to process this grief. I’m trying my best to be strong but I’m still full of dread. At least I am surrounded by much love and support…

    Once again, thank you for your help on this complex journey of healing.

    1. Catherine, I’m very sorry for the loss of your sweet daughter. That is such a blow to deal with… You have to be extra gentle with yourself this holiday season. Your loss is still so raw. Perhaps having a special ornament or two with her name on it might be comforting. Don’t be afraid to feel sad or attempt to cover up your grief. And yes, it’s wonderful that you’re surrounded by love and support, but still it won’t be easy. I’ll be thinking of you. Thanks for stumbling upon my post. I have a few more grief/loss posts too in case you’re interested.

  11. Hi
    My four year daughter Hana passed away April 3 2012. So it our second christmas without her. Last christmas was really hard and we didn’t go to any family party’s. I bought gifts for her and filled her stocking any way. Going into this holiday I’m wondering how to honor her memory without over doing it. A way to say we still love her and miss her

    1. Katie, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure last Christmas was really rough. It’s lovely that you filled her stocking and bought little gifts. I see no reason why you couldn’t do that again if you’d like. Or how about doing it before the holidays and then giving them away to a child in need of the same age your Hana would be? This could be done every year. Or how about having a special tree somewhere in your house for which you buy a special ornament each year. It would be Hana’s tree. Of course, only you know what feels right in your heart for you to do. Be kind to yourself. The loss lasts a lifetime. Honor your grief by feeling it.

    1. Ron, I’m very sorry for your loss. Your grief is fresh and raw, so please be gentle with yourself and your emotions. I’m sure your family will understand how tough the holidays will be for you. Again, I’m sorry.

  12. What can I do to help my girlfriend during the holidays.This is the first Christmas she will not be alive.She is very can I help????

  13. Hi Nancy! Thank you for this article! My 30 y.o. son passed 4 years ago on Oct. 15th. I have never not put up the tree or decorated the house, but on Christmas day, my husband & I stay home. We exchange our gifts to each other. Christmas was Ian’s favorite holiday. I have started to do several things that seem to help me with this. 1. I buy a special ornament, angel related to place on the tree in his honor. 2. I serve his favorite meal on Christmas day (steaks on the grill), & 3. I adopt either a child or senior citizen in need & provide gifts & a meal in his honor. So sorry for the loss of your mother!!! Bless you for reaching out to help others!

    1. Kathy, I am sorry for your loss. How tragic and how terribly painful for you. The upcoming holiday season must be so difficult. I’m glad to hear you are starting to do several things that seem to be helping you. Your ideas are wonderful. I appreciate the kind words about my mother. Christmas was her favorite holiday too. Again, I’m sorry. Thank you for sharing.

  14. We just lost our Mother October 5,2014 and my sister and I are having a difficult time getting through one day at a time. It helps to know that others have made it through.

    1. Kathe, I am very sorry about your Mother. This is a very difficult time for you and your sister, but yes, you will make it through. I’m glad it helps knowing others understand. Again, I’m sorry.

  15. Hello
    I lost my mom sept 2014, my dad, july 2013, and my husband aug 2012. I have not been happy since. My mom’s death has been the worse. I am on antidepressants, but I still cry everyday. The holidays are the worst. My mom was the last of my immediate family, and I am all alone in this house. I look forward to sleeping every night with a sleep medication just to shut the sorrow out. I pray to the Lord and attend church, but I am still very sad. I have decided this is the way it is just going to be. I cry everyday because I miss my mom here at the house with me. I am grateful that she is not suffering any more, but I miss her so much around here. I just have to wait to see what the Lord will bring in my future, whether it is another husband or what. Thanks for listening.

    1. Sheila, I am very sorry about your mom, dad and husband. You are dealing with a tremendous amount of loss and grief, so of course you are struggling. I hope you are talking with a professional about all this. It’s too much to try to handle alone. Thank you for sharing and again, I’m very sorry.

  16. I lost my mom on November 1, 2015. I appreciate this website helping to guide mourners through the holidays. This will be my first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my mom. I was thinking about traveling.

    1. Telia, I am very sorry for your loss. The holidays will be hard, but ordinary days will be too. You’re not alone. Thank you for taking time to comment. Again, I’m sorry.

  17. Hi,

    Thank you for your tips, they certainly will be helpful this year. We have punch a tough year starting August 2014 when my dad, who had battled heart disease for over 20+ years was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. Needless to say it was trying on the family to watch a nearly 70 year old man forget his wife of 46 years (who cared for him 24/7). As we headed into Christmas 2014 my mom took ill and after a trip to the ER we learned she had cancer. It turned out it was rare and fast. She was released just before Christmas but declined rapidly due to complications. She passed on January 3rd. My entire world turned upside down and within 24 days I lost my best friend, my rock. I’m the youngest of 3 kids and the one with the youngest family (my kids were 7 and 3 when she died) and I got left handling all my dads affairs, doctors visits etc. I work also work full time and had a small side business. We finally managed to secure a nursing home for my dad in March and after a rocky start he found a good place and lived out his remaining months in a good place. He died August 8, 2015 – his heart finally gave up the fight. So, I went from having both my parents last Christmas to none this year. My siblings are suffering with depression and have been battling that for many years, this has obviously caused things to get worse for them. My grief now comes in spurts, good days and bad days. The thought of the holidays nearly make me sick and I struggle with how things will be. I’ve got to suck it up for the kids but it’s not easy to put on a happy face and get up some days. I have my sweet babies and a wonderful husband to lift me up each day but I miss my mom and dad so much that it’s unimaginable to think of how we will get through this. We had special traditions that are now going to die with them. I read in someone else’s post that the family made an effort at first to do things together and now they have other things and are too busy. I suspect that it will be that way for my siblings.

    Anyways, thank you for the tips. I’m sure that I will be looking at them again closer to the holidays.

    Good luck to everyone who is struggling and take comfort in the love you feel for your family member and hang onto the memories. Cry if you need too and do your best to make it through. That’s all I can hope to do.

    1. Cynthia, I am so sorry. Losing one parent is awful. Losing them both within such a short time spam, well, it’s horrible. I’m wondering if you can find just one of those traditions you mentioned to try to continue. Just a thought. I hope you can find some peace, but it’s important to allow yourself to grieve. I still miss my mother so much. I will never be done grieving. We don’t move on, but we can and must move forward, but at our pace. Again, I’m sorry.

  18. You give very thoughtful advice . I am 61 and my mother died at age 94 in March. I grew up in a small town and my mother and I were really close. I am grateful for the long time we were together but her absence now is very painful. I am most fortunate to have a supporting family- but I really miss her. To add to this , for me, is that my childhood home – built by my father has just been put on the market. Not my choice, but no other family member wants it and I can’t keep it up on my own. My dad died 15 years ago. I’m having trouble saying good bye to my mother, my home, and the town I grew up with. Christmas was a time my mom and I always enjoyed as I would spend time with her for several days befor and cook and laugh. I am lucky to have 2 grown daughters and a wonderful husband. Fall was always my favorite time – but I’m just really sad. Thanks for your blog. Reading this has helped.

    1. Margueritte, I am very sorry about your mother. Her absence is, of course, very painful for you and now heading into the holidays, well, it’s going to be tough. Allow yourself to feel the sadness. You need to grieve and you need to do it in your own way. And of course, you don’t truly have to say goodbye to her. The memories will always be treasures for your heart. Perhaps you can choose some special items of your mother’s to have as keepsakes. Be kind to yourself this holiday season (and beyond). You are allowed to feel many emotions. Thank you for reading. I’m glad it helped a little and again, I’m sorry.

  19. I absolutely DREAD the holidays. I love fall, but when that last leaf falls and Thanksgiving is creeping around the corner I just want to fast forward to January. I have two children and I feel so guilty about my holiday dread. It’s almost like an anxious sick to my stomach feeling, then numbness sets in. Wow, where to even begin…on Dec 8th it will be 2 years since my mom has passed (liver disease eventually failure) and my dad (colon/lung cancer) a year and half before her. My mom was my best friend, my rock, the glue to our whole family and I was an only child. Not sure if that makes it easier or harder. You sit back and think, how does anyone lose both of their parents by the age of 38. I feel so cheated out of all the moments I should have still had with them and feel like my kids are missing out too. My kids were their world and they both lived with us for the last 6-7 years of their lives. Maybe it helps just to type this out or connect with other people who have lost a parent or other close loved one. I don’t know. I have no answers except I just try to survive the holidays and know that one morning I’ll wake up and it’ll be January 2nd….

    1. Susan, I’m sorry both of your parents have died. Your grief is still very raw and yes, you have been cheated, as have your children. But your parents will always be your parents and the memories are like treasures for your heart. Hopefully the holidays will not be too painful for you, but if they are, it’s okay to acknowledge the pain. Doing so allows more joy to come in too. And January will be here before you know it. Even though it doesn’t seem like it right now. Again, I’m sorry. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Hi Susan,

      I commented on this website a few weeks ago. I just saw your post and felt the need to respond.

      I’m in the same boat, I lost both my parents in 2015, mom 67 yrs old on Jan 3 and dad 70 years old on August 8. This is the first Christmas without them both. Mom was sudden, this time last year we were shopping and preparing for the holidays but were struggling with the onset of dementia with my dad who was battling advanced heart disease. it was very stressful. She took ill mid December, heard the dreaded C word and was gone 24 days later. She too was my rock, the glue to the family, my best friend, I’d call her up and we’d just putter around doing nothing. They lived 4 minutes from me. I had to take her by ambulance on new years eve to the ER. we knew something wasn’t right, she was released from the hospital a few days before Christmas (don’t get me started on that). We rang in the new year together w/my sister at the ER. She left us 12:15am on Jan 3.

      I have 2 siblings but that has it’s ups and downs. Now we are trying to keep traditions in place, everyone is handling the losses different but I was the one left handling finances and final affairs. I am only now finally finished with everything.

      Just last night I was looking at a donation card we received from the local cancer clinic and I lost it…how can it be I’m trying decide on an amount to donate in her memory instead of a Christmas gift.

      I miss my parents differently. Dad was sick since I was 12 years old. I was 39 when he died. Mom went from a worried wife to gone. In less than 24 days. The shock, the why, the unfairness, the feeling of being robbed are all still parading through my head. My son was 3 when she died and he won’t remember her. My daughter was 7, I pray she does. Mom cared for the children until just months before she died….she had to give them up when dads dementia appeared.

      I find it hard to pretend to be ok, in fact when the emotion hits I can’t hide it. My children are so use to seeing me cry and if they hear me sniffle they look with concern to see if I’m crying. Even asking if I have puffy eyes again.

      I try to recall the wonderful and amazing memories. I’ve started early picking at my xmas decorations and have accepted a bunch of party invites to kick off the holidays all in the hope that it will help if I ease into the “spirit”. I hosted Christmas dinner last year at my home, it was the first dinner ever not at my folks house. So, at least that was a semi new tradition we started last year, they were both there and I still see her at the kitchen table.

      Her 1 year anniversary is also hitting me just after the new year rings in…I’d like to fast forward to January 4th….or rewind completely to a time when all was right with the family and try to avoid all this from happening. Cause this “new normal” sucks.

      I wish you the best this holiday season and hang onto your memories as tight as you can. You are not alone as you struggle with this.

      Hugs from Canada

      1. Hi Cynthia,
        My mom died in March. She was 94 – I was very lucky but she was my best friend. My dad died of emphysema 15 years ago after a long decline. My children are older and I don’t at all have the same situation as you do. I still however feel a huge loss this year and after reading your post – I know in my mind -I’ve Been trying to “fix it.” Usually I can- but not this time.

        I can, however, realize it’s time to give me a break. Grieving is hard work. Thanksgiving for me this year will include Stouffers side dishes. I am not going to plan anything I don’t have to. I asked my children what we could do this year for a different tradition. They suggested a bonfire in our back yard. We may do that as it will be easy.
        Maybe Snuggle with your kids and read them a story- or let them tell you one. Let them choose the Christmas dinner- Hot dogs? Take them in their pajamas for hot chocolate.
        Go for a walk at dark when things are quiet- no one says a word until you get home and then see what everyone heard.
        This all may take too much energy this year. If so just be easy with yourself and rest. I will be thinking about you and sending love. No one can understand completely but I’m with you in trying to find ” me” as I go through this season. Much love Margueritte

  20. Nancy,
    Thank you for your support and reply. I saw this after I had written the above. Thank you for your advice and for giving a forum for us! It means a lot! Margueritte

  21. I just want to thank you for your suggestions. My dad has been dead for the past 6 years and my mother passed away this past June. So this is my first holiday without both of my parents. I do have other family, a brother, sister, 2 nephews and uncles. I just don’t understand why we can’t keep some of the old traditions around a while longer. My brother and uncles are going out to Ohio and my sister is having her inlaws over for Thanksgiving. I just don’t feel like doing anything tomorrow. Is that ok?

    1. Jon, Of course it’s okay to not feel like doing anything. You are entitled to feel any way that you feel. I’m sorry both of your parents have died and yes, the holidays will be very different now. Have you talked with your siblings and other relatives about your wish to keep some traditions around a while longer? Maybe they don’t realize how you’re feeling. I hope you find some of my suggestions helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  22. My Grammy died in April of this year. She lived with my parents for 10 years, and lived down the street before that. Her and my Grandfather were a big part of my life. I’ve lived out of state for almost 4 years, and I didn’t make the trip for Christmas last year. I went in January instead. This will be the Christmas without my Grandmother and I really thought I was managing it well. We spent a lot of time baking together, and on my fridge, right by the stove I’ve got a picture of her looking so happy, cooking on Thanksgiving. I’ve tried “paying it forward” to honor her, thrown myself into finals for grad school to stay distracted. But it just hits me every once in awhile really hard, that I wont get another Christmas with her, or any other day. It sucks all the air out of me. She was 92 when she died, she had such a long and beautiful life surrounded by her family. And I know she’d hate to know how sad we all are without her. It’s just hard to force myself to be happy. Thank you for your blog. I think tonight is one night I’ll just let myself be sad. And tomorrow try again. I’ve got so many good memories. Those have to be enough to hold onto.

    1. Jacqueline, I’m very sorry to hear about your Grammy. This Christmas will be very different without her, and there will undoubtedly be a mix of emotions that you will experience. All I can say, is honor them all. Allowing for sadness is important too. Cherish the memories and allow yourself to grieve. Again, I’m sorry.

  23. Nancy
    My Mother was my best friend. i was the youngest of her 3 children, everyday I have a melt down she passed away 10/3/15 7 days before her 81st birthday. I know god had a plan this I know. He knew mom wasn’t going to be around to much longer do to her failing heart. so he gave my single daughter a son. I truly believe he knew I needed something to nurture and help take care of since I took care of mom for 4 yrs when dad died. I can not figure out this new norm I am to have I do nothing but cry and I am so depressed its over whelming. my middle sibling is toxic to me she says some nasty stuff like for instance I know how you feel she was my mom longer!! yes that was said to me days after my mom died. My brother and I get along well but men are not easy to talk to they hold back. She was everything to me. I am married and have 1 child and a 5 month old grandson that mom got to see for 17 days. I can not concentrate all’s I think about is what if I did this or that she could be here. she was on hospice that i question but our family dr said I did it all right with her and I still dont feel like I did. I was at her side when she passed and since then I am in a fog. Christmas this year is going to be so tuff. our little man is still young to understand, but why do people feel the need to think I should flip my feeling on and off like a light switch. Thank you.. for listening very lost daughter.. Lisa

    1. Lisa, I’m very sorry about your mother. And yes, Christmas will be very tough, as will the days, weeks and months after it’s come and gone. Please allow yourself to honor your feelings and to feel your grief. And be kind to yourself. Again, I’m sorry.

  24. My father passed away Dec 1st 2015. This will be my first christmas without him. Worse part is that my little sister is 14 and the most attached to him. We plan on being together Christmas but I don’t even know how to act. It’s kind of like losing him again.

    My bf (of many years) invited us to go with his family to spend christmas. But how can we spend christmas with such a cheerful family when we feel so broken?

    1. Nicy, I’m very sorry. Christmas will be hard for sure. Of course you don’t know how to act now without him. How could you? Your loss is very, very recent, so go ahead and grieve all you want. You need to. Feel free to spend Christmas with whomever you choose. You need to honor your feelings and do what feels right for you. Again, I’m sorry.

  25. Hi, thank you for all your posts. My mom, 93yrs old died 2 weeks ago. I am the youngest of 4 daughters. Thanksgiving was a nightmare as we buried mom the week before…I honestly don’t know how we are all going to get through Christmas. Mom was a Hugh part if my life and every Christmas eve she would recite the Night before Christmas by heart, all our kids her grandkids are in their 20s now but it’s my sisters that r having a terrible time..I want to change up Christmas but dont have a clue …I just can’t see the empty chair at our table thus year, mom was our Everything… Mary

    1. Mary, I am very sorry about your mom. I understand. You are in the earliest stages of grief, so you’ll need to be extra gentle and kind with yourself. I hope my grief posts help just a bit. My dad died in July, so this is my first holiday season with no living parents. I suspect there’ll be a new grief post coming soon on this. It’s hard. Remember it’s perfectly okay to honor your feelings of sadness during the holidays too. Do your best. Share the memories, even though that’ll be hard. Plan on lots of tears, but hopefully there’ll be some smiles too. I’ll be thinking of you.

  26. My husband died froml lung cancer this past January. My dad passed, also from lung cancer, this past August. My girls and I are going home to be with mom this year for Christmas. We will get with my brother and his family. They are changing plans for us to go meet at a brunch on Christmas Day, which I can not really afford. Also, he has informed mom that we are not to talk about dad during Christmas. I don’t get that. I like to talk about both my dad and my husband. MOm and I do all the time. Would it be wrong for me to talk about dad and my husband this Christmas even if my brother said we are not to? I’m a little irritated at him right now.

    1. Laurie, The fact you feel irritated says a lot IMO. Of course, it’s not really my place to say, but of course, you should talk about your dad and your husband if you want to. It’s not just about what your brother wants. Maybe he’s in a lot of pain and feels it’s just too hard. Communication is key. I would talk openly about your feelings if you feel up to it. Otherwise those ill feelings may just fester. Hoping you enjoy your family time. I am very sorry about your husband and your dad. You’ve had a rough year.

  27. Nancy,
    I came across this blog as I was searching for ways to get through the holidays after the death of a loved one. Thanks for posting these wonderful and encouraging suggestions. My mother passed away in mid-September 2016 after a long battle with COPD. My 90 year old father and I were her primary caregivers up until the day she died. We then had to get through mom’s birthday in October and buried her on my birthday in October (it was either going to be on my birthday or my Dad’s birthday which was the week after mine, so I took the hit for this). Thanksgiving is usually at our house, filled with Mom & Dad, friends and lots of good food and camaraderie but I couldn’t even bear the thought of it this year. We were invited to a friend’s home and thankfully accepted the invitation. Now Christmas is upon us and I convinced my dad that we had to be anywhere but home and we are going out of town, staying at a hotel, sightseeing in that area and just being around lots of other people. Christmas was her favorite time of year and I find myself waffling between accepting her death and then breaking down in tears because she is not physically here.

  28. Hi,
    My mom passed away in July of this year and I am having a difficult time on what to do this Christmas. You see, my sister has said that she is sending her husband and two kids away to be with her husbands parents. She said she wanted to just spend it with me. I however, have a family (husband and two kids) who have said they feel uncomfortable having her be here when we open presents ( they are shy and we have always had Christmas morning together just the four of us, to open presents ). I feel so conflicted. This is their house too and I had to respect their feelings, as well. So, I had the conversation today with her and she basically shut down, saying she would rather just be alone, and doesn’t want to be around anyone and crying and saying she just wants mom back. I worry that I have let her down, once again. She was mom’s caretaker and they were very close. I live a half hour away, so all of her care fell on her since she was 5 minutes away from mom.
    I guess I just wanted some sense of normalcy, one thing that didn’t change this year… it has been so stressful this year in addition to mom being sick then dying a month later, I’ve been going to school and starting work with a child with intensive needs. I feel so lost and so sad almost all the time. Any advice on how to handle things with my sister, in a loving way?

    1. I know you miss your mom and you love her, but you don’t need to “handle” your sister. You just need to love her. She misses your mom. She was with her a great deal toward the end. You could have helped a little more – 30 minutes isn’t far. Is it possible that you feel a little guilty that “all the care fell on your sister” because she was 25 minutes closer. Your sister needs a lot of love right now, so do you. Don’t let the fact that your children are shy stand in the way of that. They may love having their aunt over. Look at it as having someone over that loved your mom and has the shared happy memories that only sisters possess. That is a loving thing to do. I hope you had your sister come to your house that Christmas. I know that two years have passed. I hope you resolved things with your sister and that you and your family have a holiday season in which you feel peaceful and you can honor your mom.

  29. My Daddy just passed away a week ago today… We had his Memorial Wednesday of this week. I am having such a difficult time accepting the fact that he is gone from this Earth. I have no idea as to how I am supposed to grieve AND celebrate Christmas considering how close his death is to the holidays.. My heart feels so empty and I feel so distanced from the world around me. I dont want to do my family and my husband’s family such a disservice by not going to their house, but my heart just doesnt feel like I can take it. Is this wrong of me?? Should I push myself to participate or not????? I am so lost …..

    1. Tiffani, I am very sorry about your dad. The holidays can be so challenging following the death of a loved one. I’m sorry my response to your comment is late as Christmas has come and gone already. But it’s most certainly understandable that your heart wasn’t in it this year. Your grief is so fresh, so raw. I know that lost feeling. Honor your grief. Feel it. Talk about it. Write about it. Handle it your way. Be kind and patient with yourself. Again, I’m sorry.

  30. My mother died of stage four lung cancer on December 5, 2013, six days shy of her 64th birthday, and of course, 20 days before Christmas. Christmas hasn’t been the same since. However, I now look at Christmas as a way to put a smile on others’ faces (my wife and step-son, as well as my ESL students I invite over for Christmas dinner, all of whom don’t have their families in Canada yet). Doing this brings them happiness, and allows me to forget, albeit temporarily, that my Mom is no longer here. All around, it is a very positive experience, and it beats the alternative of sitting around by myself and becoming depressed.


    1. Jim, I am sorry for your loss. Of course, Christmas hasn’t been the same. How could it be? I think inviting those students into your home for Christmas dinner is a beautiful thing for you to do. Thank you for sharing about it.

  31. Thank you Nancy, I was looking for ways to help me through the holidays… I lost my mom November 20th 2017. So my heart is still in a lot of pain. And Christmas is going to be really hard…it was my moms favorite holiday… and she was so excited to decorate this year sense our family is growing and I’m getting married..

    1. Ashley, I am very sorry. Your grief is very raw and will be for a long time. Undoubtedly, Christmas will be really hard. How could it not be? Honor your grief. And remember you’re not alone. Thank you for taking time to share. Again, I’m sorry.

  32. Hi Nancy. My Dad passed away last year on Dec. 1 of last year.My mom’s sister who was living with and Iwas carrying for suffered a stroke the evening of my Dad’s funeral. She lived in Harry Hines Hospise for over 2 weeks and finally passed on christmas day night. This year my sweet baby cat is not healthy and fear she will have to be helped over to the Rainbow Bridge tomorrow. I mom has been living 4 houses down from us and can see the confusion, heartbreak and tears that my mother tries to hide. I am seriously over christmas and all the celebrating. Got any good thoughts for me?

    1. Kathy, I am very sorry about your dad. And then your aunt’s stroke, my goodness, that’s a lot of loss for you. I am sorry about you sweet kitty too. Losing pets is awful. I have a couple posts on that – about dogs, but it doesn’t matter. We love our pets dearly and it hurts to say goodbye to them, no matter what species. And it sounds like your mom is struggling. You have a lot to deal with. Grief is hard on so many levels. I don’t have any answers. You might find this post helpful. Or not. Take care of yourself this holiday season and beyond. Thank you for sharing and again, I’m sorry.

  33. My dad passed away when I was 11 and my mom when I was 17. After she passed I immediately moved to go to university in a city where I didn’t know anyone and I am very shy so meeting new people has been difficult. Even though I am now in my final year of university, the holidays are always very lonely and sad. I miss them so much, but thank you for the tips and reassurance that its human to feel pain and sadness in these moments.

    1. You have had so much loss in your young life. I hope you have met some new people – maybe through work or by doing volunteer work. It must be very hard to process all of this at a young age. I’m thinking of you over the holidays!

  34. Nancy,
    LOst my Mom suddenly as her heart stopped. She did have dementia. There was no time to prepare. I would not want my Mom to suffer either. There is not a day that goes by that i do not wish she was here to talk too. My Dad passed thre years ago and my only Brother and sibling 4 months after my Dad. Even though i am maried i still feel this loss everyday. Thanksgiving is in two days and my in-laws want me to go to diner at their house. i decided i would rather stay home and just have a quiet dinner with my husband and our son. Our son is mad that i do not want to go to his Grandmothers. Everyone wants you to put your feelings aside for the day and do what they want you too. It has only been one month, i need more time to grieve. Im hoping someday the family will understand that some days it is hard just to do what i need to do. Thankyou for listening. AVA

  35. As 1 who is an MBC affected person what about dealing with unwelcome changes for It’s surprising that mid fall to early winter wasn’t the dangerous season because of this




  36. It’s Christmas morning and I lost my mom 2 days ago. . She has been in and out of the hospital since Dec. 04th and had a couple of scary moments in the hospital but pulled through well enough to go to rehab where things were going pretty well. They said she could get out for 4 to 5 hrs on Christmas Day and my husband and I were going to pick her up which we were so happy to do. She suddenly couldn’t breathe a couple of days ago and the paramedics rushed her back to the hospital where they hooked her up to breathing apparatus and we had a few more hours to be with her. It was such a sudden and drastic downturn. I was very active while she lie there holding her hand, talking to her, rubbing my fingers through her hair and rubbing her feet. I loved my mom so much. My heart is breaking. This is Christmas morning and I keep seeing her walking up the sidewalk holding on to my brother’s arm and sitting with us at Christmas , opening presents and having Christmas dinner just like in years passed. We also had a fun tradition of playing something we called: Christmas Bingo after dinner and before dessert. She loved that. We are still doing all of the above with heavy hearts but I am more depressed and sad today. It’s been shocking. We had so many high hopes for today and for having more time with her. I wanted her to be able to go home and be in the sweet little home she loved so much. My heart is heavy. We had a very special relationship that meant the world to me. Mom was 89. She would be 90 in March.

    1. Linda, I am so sorry. I understand your heartache. Your loss is so recent and your grief so raw, so of course, your heart is heavy. Do take care of yourself and remember grief has no timetable or handbook. My sincere condolences. Thank you for sharing about your dear mom.

  37. Pingback: Dealing With the Death of a Spouse

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