How to Handle the First Holidays After a Death

That Christmas wasn’t the same without her.

There were tears and sadness, but there was joy as well. 

She was there with us in our hearts even though she wasn’t with us physically.

I think the thing that helped me most was giving myself permission to just “be.”  That I didn’t have to “do” all the things I normally would have done. 

That the feelings were all normal. 

That I had permission to not have a “perfect Christmas,” but that I also had permission to laugh and have fun. Letting go of the expectations was a huge weight off my shoulders. 

My mother had died in June less than 3 weeks after being placed on hospice. She wanted to have Christmas in June when my brother and his wife were coming to visit. I carefully wrapped the dolls she had lovingly made and picked out for my daughters and myself. My brother got the painting that had hung above her couch for years. Everyone got something she had owned and that she had picked especially for them. Unfortunately, she passed away before my brother could arrive. We celebrated Christmas in June without her physically being present but she was there in spirit as we all opened the gifts she had wanted us to have.

The actual Christmas holiday was really hard that year. I had always loved Christmas and couldn’t wait for the day after Thanksgiving to start decorating. It was my favorite time of year and I absolutely loved decorating the tree and seeing the twinkly lights. But I just couldn’t bear the thought of decorating the house that year. I couldn’t bring myself to do all the work of dragging everything out and putting it up, and then the thought of having to take it all down again was enough to put me in the fetal position crying. 

My girls were in 7th and 9th grade at the time and I wanted them to still have a good Christmas even though I was having a terrible time getting into the Christmas spirit. We talked about what mattered to all of us and how we wanted to try and have a nice Christmas even though Grandma wouldn’t be there. Turns out, they didn’t really care if the house was decorated or if we baked cookies so we dropped those traditions that year. We added some new ones by hanging a special ornament on the tree in my mom’s honor and donating a gift to our local Giving Tree for someone that was in her age range. To make the holiday special for my girls, I made them each a bear from my mom’s nursing cape. Having something to hold that reminded them of her helped ease the heartache.

The thought of it never being the same again overwhelmed me and diminished the eager anticipation I had previously had for the season. I wanted to come up with some ideas that would make Christmas special again. We looked at what traditions were really important to us as a family that we wanted to keep and what new traditions we might like to start. Just because we tried something one year, didn’t mean we had to do the same thing every year from here on out. We could reevaluate each year and find what suited our needs for each particular year.

A couple years now our immediate family has traveled for the holidays. One year we went to Disney World and had a fabulous time. I didn’t have to decorate or buy gifts. We spent time together and made memories, which is what my mom would have wanted. She would never have wanted us to be miserable, but rather to remember her and go on living with her memory alive in our hearts. Personally, I have enjoyed our traveling Christmases the most. I don’t think we would have tried them if our kids had been younger, but it worked for us at this stage of our lives.

8 years have passed now since my mom died, and although Christmas isn’t the same without her here, I don’t have the same hollow feeling I had that first Christmas either. It’s a “new normal.” We have kept some of our old traditions and added some new ones. We’ve had new adventures and remembered ones we had with her. 

Just as there is no “right way” to mourn, there is no “right way” to celebrate. The keys to helping you not only survive the holiday but to enjoy it as well are:

  1. Talk to family members and see what their needs are, then compromise so everyone has at least some of their needs met.

  2. Let go of unrealistic expectations.

  3. Give yourself permission to cry.

  4. Give yourself permission to laugh and have fun.

  5. Don’t overcommit yourself. Take time to rest.

  6. Let others know what you need.

  7. Do something for someone else.

  8. Don’t fight the memories. Talk about your loved one.

  9. Remember you’re not alone. Your feelings are normal. Find a counselor if you need one.

  10.  Reevaluate your traditions and keep what works, then let go of what doesn’t.

Check out Kidderbug Kreations for comfort gifts and articles on grief. My heart goes out to all who have lost a loved one and you remain in my prayers that you will find peace and a new normal. If I can help in any way, please contact me.


Anne from Kidderbug Kreations