How Can I Celebrate The Holidays When I Feel So Sad?

The holidays are fast approaching and for many there is a sense of dread that will come this year. Dread because an important family member or friend is missing. An important member of their life circle has died this year and how will they get through without him or her.

In our culture the holidays, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas, emphasize family and friend togetherness. The absence of a friend or family member becomes more evident. Our sense of loss is more “in our face” than other times of the year.

There is often an awkwardness as we gather together. An elephant in the room is the absence of our special person. Questions in everyone’s mind are: Do we pretend everything is the same? If I bring up Dad not being here will I make people cry? Will I bring sadness to the group by mentioning his not being here? Should we just pretend everything is fine?

Here are some thoughts on addressing the elephant. Bring it out in the open. Have the gathering include the missing person so you can talk, share, cry, and hopefully smile, even laugh during the gathering.

Some ideas:

-Bring the loved one and memories into conversations. Start the gathering with talking about the sadness and awkwardness of today being filled with feelings.

-Make a dining place setting at the table (a regular plate, silverware, napkin) with a flower or something (be creative) on the plate.

-Make a plate setting or place setting with a lit candle on the plate.

-Put a picture of your loved one at a place setting.

-Begin the meal with blessings for the family/friends being together and acknowledgment that your special person is present in memories.

-You may want to end the meal by sharing stories. “Remember when Dad-----” kind of stories. Every family has them, now is a good time to bring the stories forward, to laugh, to cry, together.

The idea is to include your missing loved one. We are often afraid to talk of the person, afraid we will cry or make others cry. Remember, everyone present is missing this special person. Everyone is thinking about them not being here. By talking, by having a picture, a place setting, you are acknowledging the sorrow, the void, and making it talk-able.

There will be tears but there can also be remembrance, shared stories and laugher. You can have a real exchange rather than everyone trying to ignore the emptiness, the sadness in the room.

If you do not have family to share the holidays with, to reminisce with, find a friend or friends to share the day with. If friends are all with their families and you find yourself alone go to a movie, a play, a museum. It is just too hard to be alone, in your home, on a holiday that emphasizes togetherness.

I am also a great proponent of letter writing. For these holidays write your loved one a letter. Write about your feelings of the holidays, missing your person, write everything you feel you need to say. As a family you could all write letters and put them on the empty plate. Have a burning ceremony following dinner with “I love you's” said as the notes turn to ashes.

This first holiday without a special person present will be challenging no matter how you live through it. Support from family and friends may make the days a bit easier but no matter what, you will feel the huge hole in your life a bit more during this normally jovial season.

Something More... about How Can I Celebrate the Holidays When I Feel So Sad?

If you, or someone you know has experienced the loss of a loved one, I encourage you to read my booklet on grief, MY FRIEND, I CARE The Grief Experience.  It is a good "sympathy card" for anyone you know who is grieving. Less than a greeting card and provides guidance and care.  This booklet is also available in the End of Life Care Guideline Series

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Mickey Havener

19 years ago, we planted a tree in honor of our love one. We no longer own that property, but when I drive by I am reminded of him by the huge tree in the yard. This time of year, small live Christmas trees are available. They can be planted after New Years and bring us much comfort.


my husband of 51 years died July 18th of this year I miss him so much he was my everything I missed him on his birthday and Thanksgiving and now Christmas thank you for all your booklets and all your advice LOVE YOU AND MERRY CHRISTMAS


In the Mexican tradition, we follow the Dias De Los Muertos, a day that we share with the dead. We use the 30 days to share with those who have passed on. It is a celebration of life. Many of us make special altar altar that we keep up to keep friends and family near us. It is not intended to be scary, it is intended to be lovable.


Hi Howard, your blog question of what about if the person is alive doesn’t give me enough information to be specific BUT here are some thoughts: if they are at home, include them, love them, make them the center of the day. It will be melancholy because you know they won’t be here next year but make it a day of love and specialness. If they are not at home, go visit, eat at the hospital, nursing facility, or hospice house with them—even if they are asleep or even non responsive. Talk with them as if they can hear you (a part of them can). It is okay to laugh, be thankful, cry, crawl in bed, hug, sit on the bed (all while your loved one is non responsive). You ask if the letter writing makes sense before the death. I’m not sure how the letters would work if the person is still alive although I recommend each person spend time with the dying person (when they are non responsive, days, hours, minutes before death) and talk from the heart about everything, positive and negative, that is part of the relationship.
My blessings are with you. Barbara

Howard Hunt

Do you have special advice for families celebrating while their loved one is in hospice but still alive?
Does the letter writing make some sense for them also?

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