How to Get Through the Holidays Without a Loved One

While often advertised as a season of hope and happiness, for those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can bring overwhelming feelings of grief and loss.

Whether it’s your first holiday without your loved one, or many years have passed, you may be wondering just how you’re going to make it through in one piece.

We asked our community to share their stories about how they cope and honor their loved ones during the holidays. We hope their experiences offer a few ideas that you can use to bring a spot of hope into your holiday season.

1. Honor Your Loved One’s Memory

The holidays can be a time to remember your loved one and reflect on the memories you shared. You may choose to honor their memory through special decorations, pictures, or gifts. Our community shared many wonderful examples of how they choose to commemorate their loved ones:

“I lost my dad in May. I had special ornaments with his name on it, and I decorated around his picture.”

Melissa K.

“I made a banner with different pictures of my daughter being silly and hung it with the other decorations above the table. Made everyone smile. A special friend hand painted a Christmas ornament with my daughters name in it. We hang it on the tree every year. We hang her stocking every year.”

Becky H.

“I made pillows for each of my four children out of their father’s golf shirts. They opened them together and were all happy to have a remembrance.”

Karen C. B.

“My mom passed away three months ago and Christmas was our favorite time of the year. I found her special collectable angels and made an angel snow forest in honor of her. Makes me feel loved and close to her.”

Betsy B.

2. Keep Traditions Alive

Traditions are a way to keep a sense of continuity, even when things in life have changed. Recall the holiday traditions you had with your loved one, and consider keeping your favorites.

“My wife passed away 9 years ago. We still hang her stocking by the fireplace. My kids used to write notes to her and put them in the stocking. They are still in there. We also light a candle for her on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”

Scott E.

“The first Christmas after my mom passed away, my sister and I got together and ordered Chinese food delivery (it was always my mom’s choice when she was in the nursing home) in her honor.”

Diane H.

3. Share Memories

The holidays are often centered around sharing delicious food. One way to remember your loved one is by dedicating time to share memories as you gather for the meal. You could prepare a poem or speech, or share a favorite quote or Bible verse. You could also go around the table and ask everyone to share a few words or a favorite memory.

“[We gave] a toast in his honor, keeping our cherished traditions intact, expressing gratitude for the gift of him in our lives. That’s what I did to honor my beloved husband of 38 years.”

Nancy B.

“We had a candle at the table. I asked if anyone wanted to say anything, my daughter said just a few words. We then prayed, ate our Thanksgiving meal, and I removed the candle. That was never forgotten.”

Marilyn K.

4. Support a Cause Close to Them

You may find a sense of comfort in volunteering or donating to a cause your loved one supported. Giving back is known to provide feelings of happiness and satisfaction, and can provide a bright spot when times feel dark.

“In my father’s memory, my husband and I donate to a food shelf.”

Sara M. 

“I give to others, because these special people who are no longer with me (my mother-in-law Christine, and my daughter Alyssa) would’ve done the same if they were here. So I give in their memory, and because God would want me to.”

Patricia G.

5. Visit Their Memorial

Some choose to dedicate part of their holidays to visiting their loved one’s resting place. You can bring flowers or a card if you wish, or anything else that would be meaningful.

“My husband passed on 10/24/2016. Every occasion and holiday we take flowers out to his resting place at the Veterans Cemetery”.

Christina M.

6. Choose What’s Best for You

There may be lots of suggestions for how you spend your holidays. Remember that you do not have to do anything you are not comfortable with, or do not have the energy or desire to do.

This may mean skipping the celebrations this year or only visiting for an hour or two. It could mean surrounding yourself with all of your friends and family. Or it may mean gathering with a smaller, very close group. Listen to your body and mind, and give yourself and your loved ones what you need this holiday season.

How Do You Honor and Remember Your Loved One?

Hearing about what others are going through can help us feel less alone, and we are always open to hearing more experiences. If you would like to, feel free to share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

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  • Sheryl

    My Mom has been gone 14 years ago now and she LOVED Christmas so every Christmas Eve we bring her a small Christmas Tree with ‘battery’ lights to her resting place and pick it up the day after Christmas. One year my husband trudged through almost two feet of snow to get her her tree. <3