Sunday, December 15, 2013

Remembering and honoring our deceased loved ones at the holidays

The holiday season can be an incredibly difficult time for those who have lost someone close to them.  The more recent the loss, often the more difficult the season can be.  Although as I approach my 9th Christmas without my Meggie-moo (and just 3 days until her angelversary day) I can tell you the situational grief doesn't always feel like it's any different even with the passage of time.

Many people struggle with how to balance the celebrating of the season and managing the pain they feel because they miss their loved one, especially during those first few holiday seasons.  There are many, many ways you can incorporate your loved one's memory and spirit into your gatherings, celebrations and traditions.  There is no right or wrong way, only what feels right for you.  It may change from celebration to celebration and year to year.  That's OK.  It's also perfectly fine if you don't want to do anything to celebrate the season.  It's OK to say no.

Honoring Meg is something I have tremendous experience with.  Maybe because she was only 3 when she died.  Maybe because she died so close to Christmas.  Maybe because I wanted her young brothers to remember her as much as I did, we have found ways to incorporate her into our celebrations and traditions.

Don't get me wrong, it's not easy by any means.  Every year I dread the holiday traditions.  Christmas music makes me bristle.  I avoid the stores like the plague.  I just cannot deal with the festive decorations, holiday music and people happily shopping for their alive children.  And those pretty little girl dresses put me right over the edge.  Still.  Nine years later.  Instead of choosing a tree with care and the family, I stop, choose one, pay for it and come home.  I really don't care what it looks like.  I force myself to decorate it.  I hate that she is missing from this tradition.  I hate that my dream of these festive family traditions no longer have her energy and physical presence.  It makes me cranky and drains my energy faster than you can say Bah Humbug.

Still, every year I am tempted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head beginning somewhere around today.  I admit, my favorite day of the holiday season is December 26th, when it all goes back to the attic for next year.  The pain of her loss is just as raw as it's ever been the week between her angel day and Christmas.  In my case, it's definitely compounded by the fact she died exactly one week before Christmas.

On the other hand, her energy and spirit is all around us.  In as much as I miss her physical presence, and feel that annual depression and sadness over her loss, she still surrounds us and is very much involved in our celebrations.  I can't imagine not involving her memory as much as we do.  She was such a bright light. It helps to balance the sadness I feel when she is remembered and honored by everyone in our family.

Here are some ways you can honor your loved ones this holiday season:

  1. Set a place for them at the table.  Perhaps with a photo of them.  Invite them to join you in spirit. I bet they will!
  2. Light a candle for them.  Or create a candle centerpiece with that loved one in mind.  A 5-candle centerpiece goes beautifully with a framed copy of "We Light These Five Candles" poem and makes a beautiful and heartfelt gift for someone who has lost a loved one.
  3. Donate to their favorite charity in their honor or volunteer in your community in their honor.
  4. Purchase a gift they would have loved and donate it.  If it's a toy, donate to a local giving tree or family in need or Toys for Tots.  If it's an adult gift, donate to a local family in need or shelter.  
  5. Do something kind for someone else in their honor.  Visiting a local nursing home or shelter and dropping off cookies or greeting cards is a wonderful gift to those who are often alone and in need.
  6. Have a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in their honor (contact your local congress persons office for details).  Present that flag and the accompanying certificate to their loved one in a shadow box.  
  7. For a child or artist, have one of their drawings made into a pin or stuffed animal.  There are many organizations that do this.  I covet the 'potato Duncan' pin a friend had made of one of Meggie's drawings of our cat Duncan.  This is where it was made.
  8. If you are ready to part with your loved one's clothing, consider donating it to a local family in need instead of a generic donation to the Red Cross or Good Will.  This time of year, many local businesses collect warm coats, hats and mittens to give to families in need. 
  9. Buy or even make an ornament to honor your loved one.  Every year since Meg died, there has been one special ornament in her stocking on Christmas morning.  Usually a Tinker Bell.  The boys love seeing what this year's special Meggie ornament will be!  There are also "Merry Christmas From Heaven" ornaments, angels and photo memorial ornaments that are easy to find or make.
  10. Create a memory book and bring it to any gathering you attend.  Encourage those present to write a favorite memory or message to your loved one or add a photo and caption or story.  It can make a beautiful keepsake and one that can grow from year to year and event to event. 
  11. Don't be afraid to talk about your loved one.  It's OK to laugh or cry.  Go through their photographs or belongings.  Watch those videos.  Wear their favorite ugly sweater!  Carry on any traditions they might have loved or even started in their honor.  It may be difficult, but it is a wonderful way to honor them and involve them in your lives even now. 
  12. Allow yourself to scale back on your celebrations if you feel like it's too much.  If you don't want to go to or host that party, don't.  If you don't want to decorate, you don't have to. If you don't want to go to church, it's OK.  If you go somewhere and then feel overwhelmed, it's OK to leave.  
  13. If you have snow, go make a snow angel!  If you live near the beach, make a sand angel or write a message in the sand.  If you live elsewhere, gaze skyward and send your love.  Close your eyes and feel it come right back at you from them. 
  14. Create or have someone else help you create a memorial quilt made of your loved one's clothing, sheets, or favorite blankets.  You can also make eye pillows or neck warmers (hot/cold packs) from their clothing or blankets as well.
  15. Have a star named after them!  This is a beautiful gift for someone and a great group gift.  The International Star Registry will provide you with a gorgeous certificate and map to locate that person's very own star.  Someday, I need to get Meggie a star!  
  16. Be gentle with yourself.  Pace yourself.  Know that there will be a mixture of emotions and they will come and go.  Most of all, remember it's all about love.  Your love for them and theirs for you.  In remembering them, you keep that love alive in your heart.  No one can take that from you.  Ever. 
The holidays can be a very difficult time for those who have lost a close loved one.  The greatest gift you can give to them is to remember that person.  Say their name.  Perhaps present a gift in their honor or simply light a candle to remember them and share that with your friend or family member so they know you remember, too. 

I wish you peace today and always.  May the light and love of the season shine down upon you like the stars from the Heavens and my you hold your loved ones forever in your heart. 


  1. Thank you for this excellent and informative post (and your other posts relating to the loss of your daughter - so honest and poignant). My husband lost his sister on Dec. 24, 2002 to cancer and I have never understood fully how difficult this day and time of the year are to him, even years later. You have given words (and ideas) for his grief and I am grateful...

  2. Hello Kimberly,
    This was our first Christmas/New Years without our son Stephen. Stephen passed
    on July 27, 2013. He was a month short of 16 years old. He was a child with autism and had just started to have seizures in June and the last on on July 27. My thoughts are with you and your family. I wish you well and thank you for your posts. We too honor Stephen all the time and will always keep him close to our
    hearts, with us and we miss him daily and will never let his memory fade.