Navigating the Holidays after the Loss of a Loved One - Christmas

Navigating the Holidays after the Loss of a Loved One - Christmas

Part 3 of the Holidays after Loss series is all about Christmas. The first Christmas after losing a loved one is one of the most difficult “firsts”. Their absence is even more pronounced with all of the parties and celebrations that happen this time of year. Like Thanksgiving, the focus on family and blessings just magnifies the loss and grief. 

Christmas was and always will be my favorite time of year. The lights, the food, giving gifts, and now seeing the excitement of my children on Christmas morning. I was lucky to have had one Christmas with Liam and it is a memory I will always treasure. He died in August, so though Christmas wasn’t right away, it was still an incredibly painful day for me and my family. In the past several years, we have found different ways to include Liam in the festivities and by doing so I have found some peace and enjoyment again in my favorite holiday. 

Christmas After Loss Survival Guide

  • Include their favorite holiday dish or special recipe in your holiday meal. My Nana brought her Oatmeal Cake to Christmas for as long as I can remember. The first Christmas after she passed away, I begged my mom and aunts for the recipe so we could be sure it made it on the dessert table. My aunt still makes it every year (and makes an extra for my husband!) and I love that a piece of her is still with us that day. On my dad’s side, several of my family still get together to make fried walleye like they did for over 50 years at my great grandma’s house for Christmas Eve. 

  • Light a candle or have a candle-lighting ceremony. A memorial candle is a beautiful way to honor and remember your loved one. Many organizations hold special holiday candle-lighting ceremonies, like the Compassionate Friends WorldWide Candle Lighting Memorial Service or you can have your own with close family and friends. These candles have a pocket token or charm inside to have as a keepsake after the candle is gone and are perfect for candle lighting ceremonies.

  • Create a Memory Tablecloth. This was in the Thanksgiving post, but I wanted to include it again because I think it is just such a wonderful way to honor lost loved ones. I love how it can grow every year, adding memories of loved ones as they pass away. 

  • Give to Charity. There are SO MANY ways to give during the Christmas season. You can donate to a hospital or organization in your loved ones name. Be sure to research how much of their donations are actually given to the cause. I love to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, and Wounded Warrior Project. We even have family members that donate in Liam’s name every year too. You can also sponsor a family through a local shelter or church, providing Christmas gifts for those who are struggling. If you lost a child, consider buying a toy for a child who would be the same age as your child each year. Or, you can just volunteer your time to a homeless shelter, food bank, or even a nursing home. Any good deed will honor your loved one’s life.

  • Have a remembrance tree and ask loved one’s to add a memorial ornament each year. The Christmas after Liam died, my ornament exchange group made some of the most beautiful memorial ornaments. We include them on our family tree every year, and even more get added each year! Liam’s godmother gives him a Santa ornament every year as her special way to remember him. You can get custom memorial ornaments here, or make your own with this great DIY. Close friends of ours who lost their daughter cut down a tree and decorate her burial plot. It’s their way of sharing Christmas with her. We have been honored to go with them for the last several years and it is a truly special memory making experience for all of us.

  • Do something completely different. For my family, the only way we’ve been able to cope after loss has been to completely change the way holidays are handled. The first time it changed was when my grandfather died when I was 12. Instead of having Christmas at my Nana and Grandpa’s house that year, my parents hosted our entire family on Christmas Day. That tradition continued for over 20 years until Liam died. Then that year, my aunt hosted Christmas Day and I only attended for a couple of hours before I was overwhelmed. My parents have resumed having Christmas Day at their home, but it is now only my siblings and our families. While I miss the large, extended family gathering, I prefer the calm and quiet of our smaller holiday now. 

  • Say no. So often during the holiday season, we are pulled in a million directions with office holiday parties, friend get-togethers, and classroom events for the kids, it can all be too much. One of my favorite quotes is “NO is a complete sentence”. You do not owe anyone any explanations for why you do not want to attend a function or host an event. Taking care of yourself should be a top priority during the holidays. Even 5 years later, I try not to make concrete commitments, instead letting friends and family know that while I have every intention of participating, I reserve the right to cancel if I am having a particularly tough time. Being upfront like this has helped make sure that there are no hurt feelings. 


The pain of loss never goes away, it just gets easier to carry. Christmas will always be a difficult time for me since a huge piece of me is missing, but I do my best to include him in everything we do during the holidays. I still cry, a lot, but I also laugh and sing and celebrate too. I hope these ideas help you find some comfort as well.

How do you include your loved one at Christmas? Be sure to sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss the final installment of the Holidays after Loss Series, New Years Eve.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.