Celebrating the Holidays After Loss (Ideas)
“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” — Helen Keller
After such a great loss, celebrating anything feels impossible, even wrong.
I know it.
It took years after my brother Mark died to even comprehend feeling the holiday spirit. It took years again after my dad died. How can you be truly happy and celebrate life when someone who means the world to you isn’t here?
Turns out, life can be bright again — just in a different way.
Your days may not be “merry and bright” in the beginning, “special” days may suddenly seem unimportant or dull, but life will hold you up and carry you through.
If you're all-too-familiar with loss but you're here reading this, you know what I mean.
There comes a time when celebrating the holidays after loss feels more like a privilege, a sacred undertaking, a gift to the one(s) you lost, and a gift to yourself. The thing is, you have to be willing to treat your experiences that way.
You have to be willing to appreciate being alive.
The way I’ve come to see it, the moments we celebrate life are moments we can celebrate the lives of the people we’ve loved and still love, whether they’re in this room or the next.
The person we wish was here in this room with us, we can honor them by bringing them fully into the present moment with us — in heart, in thought, in deed.
This season especially can be a devotion to the lives who’ve gone before your own. It can be a window into the love and bond you still share. A time to celebrate being alive is also a time to celebrate their lifetime.
I’ve also decided that it’s less about what you do to honor your loved ones, and more about how you do the things you do that makes a difference.
When you do things with mindfulness and reverence, you pay homage to the miracle of existing. You could be sweeping the porch or making dinner. Do things with love and in the name of someone you love, and the simplest everyday moments become sacred. Immersive. Whole.
Bring the person you love into your moments with you, and they will be ever-present in your life.
(Your life is made up of moments.)
If celebrating the holidays after loss is something you either struggle with or look forward to, here are a few ideas on how you can turn this into a season of moments dedicated to the beauty you’ve found because of the people you so miss.
Ways to Celebrate the Holidays After Loss
- Make a donation in their name. Choose a cause that they stood for, one that supports others who are suffering, or something they would be proud to see you support.
- Make a puzzle from a favorite photograph of your loved one. There are many online photo companies that offer this.
- Light a candle in their honor. Say a prayer, or practice a candle/flame meditation (a practice I offer in my Sleep Rituals book).
- Meditate on how much you love that person, on the beauty that was their life, and bring your undying love and care into whatever it is you're doing today.
- Carry on a tradition your loved one started or enjoyed.
- Start a new tradition that honors your loved one. Decorate an entire tree with things they loved, photos, and mementos. Make their favorite dish and keep them in your heart the whole time. Do what a few of us in my family do, and go for a walk together early in the morning before the day starts.
- Go where you feel close to your loved one. Section out time for yourself during the quiet morning hours, in between gatherings, or as the night settles in. Take this time to reflect on cherished memories, say a silent prayer, speak a blessing, read something you both loved, or do nothing at all but breathe.
- Perform a favorite ritual and dedicate the act of service to them: a yoga sequence, your morning tea, watering the plants, taking a bath. It's an act of service for you both.
- Swap one special gift that's specific to your loved one. For example, you and at least one other person could swap "mom" gifts, or "dad" gifts, or "Mark" gifts — gifts that would've tickled their fancy and make it feel like their spirit is still here.
- Write down and/or share favorite stories with family members. Anyone who wants to participate can share a memory of loved ones passed, or times during the year when they felt their presence. You can toss written memories into a "memory box" or pass a candle around, taking turns sharing out loud.
If you haven't noticed, these are all things that require your conscious presence or direct intention. Be here fully, and anyone who has ever touched your life, and your heart, will be here too.
You are allowed to embody your own definition of "holiday spirit."
. . .
How do you (or would you) like to honor your loved ones who've passed during the holidays?
Tell me in the comments. I'd love to know more ways I could celebrate the holidays and pay homage to the people I've loved.
Thank you for your strength,
Comments on this post (6)
Jacqueline, thank you! I don’t have any of my books on audible (yet, anyway) but perhaps for future books that can be a possibility! :)
— Jennifer Williamson
Emily, I LOVE that! Here’s a secret: I still have a love for stuffed animals and there are about a dozen in our bedroom. I’m in my 30s. :) What a great idea to get yourself something that reminds you of your Dad. I think I’m going to do that too. Everyone deals with grief differently, true, and sometimes people don’t know how to express or address their grief. Your openness might be a light for others. x
— Jennifer Williamson
Hi Jennifer, thanks for all you do, are any of your books on the audible? You are so gifted to do what you do, thanks again. I have a therapist, psychiatrist, chiropractor and acupuncturist and many friends to support me through this time in my life! I’m so thankful for Heather Lean to lead me to you! Wishing you all the best holiday season, Merry Christmas! Jacqueline Pontius
— Jacqueline Pontius
I like these ideas. Thank you. I miss my dad so much. Sometimes I think I’m the only one in my family who misses him, but truthfully I know it’s that I’m the one who took his death the hardest and that’s why it feels that way.
I would add this, if your family doesn’t share your enthusiasm about the gift idea, (my mom remarried and she feels awkward when her previous marriage is brought up). do it yourself. Buy yourself something that they would have gotten you. My dad encouraged my love of stuffed animals even when in most people’s eyes I’d “grown too old” (preposterous!) for them. So I’m getting a teddy bear for myself, because my dad loved bears, and he loved me.
Jacqueline, my heart is with you this holiday season. <3
— Jennifer Williamson
My 15 year toy poodle 🐩❤️🙏 was my all, pure love, I wanted to go with him my JJ on 9/26/2020 cancer took him. I have an estranged adult daughter 8 years! She lives 10 minutes away she sends me gifts at Christmas all I want is her presence in my life I am 76! I’m now Hypomanic 1st in my life! Thanks
— Jacqueline Pontius