New Ways to do Christmas after a Death in Your Family

If this is your first holiday season without your loved one, you might find yourself feeling sad, angry, anxious, frustrated, scared or all of these emotions: not knowing what to expect, not being in the mood to celebrate, not wanting to be alone, yet not wanting to be with other people.

Your feelings are jumbled, as is your mind.

Your heart is broken.

Most likely you just want it to be over.

So what do you do?

How do you get through?

What is the right way to do the holidays when you are grieving someone you love?

The short answer is that there is no answer. At least, no right answer.

You have to do what you need to do to get through it the best you can.

Maybe for you it is opting out this year. Or perhaps you are just going through the motions for the sake of the rest of the family. Or maybe you might actually be looking forward to gathering with loved ones.

There is no one size fits all.

But one thing is for sure, some things will be different, now that someone you loved is not alive to celebrate with you.

So maybe, you may have to do the holidays a bit differently. Maybe some new traditions will begin as some older traditions have ended.

Here are Ten Ideas to Honor your Loved One during the Holidays that may help you ease the pain of your loss and bring added meaning to their life and to yours.

1. Hang a stocking and have people write a favorite memory of the deceased that you can read collectively as you open gifts or around the dinner table, or save them and read them privately.

2. Place and light a special candle at the dinner table to honor all loved ones not sitting at your table this year. My mother in law started this tradition following the death of our son Brandon, and now we remember other family members who are no longer with us during the holidays as well.

3. Write a letter to your loved one and leave it in their stocking. This is a great way to privately share with your loved one what has been happening in your life since they have passed. This is a way to communicate and still feel connected.

4. Gather as a family to volunteer serving Christmas dinner to the homeless or less fortunate. If it feels to painful to celebrate, serving others can fill your heart in another way.

5. Collect toys for a needy child, or family in honor of your loved one. After we lost Brandon, we always picked a little boy off of our Church’s Angel Tree. The feeling of providing a nice Christmas to someone who might not otherwise have one, helped in healing our broken hearts.

6. Collect favorite recipes and put together a small cookbook and hand out to family members as a gift.

Was mom famous for her Christmas cookies? Did dad make the best barbecue ever? Was grandmas lasagna legendary? Sharing the recipes for generations to come is not just a gift, its leaving a legacy.

7. Hang a special ornament on the tree in their memory. You may even want to do this together as a family before you open gifts or have dinner.

8. Instead of fighting the crowds in the stores, gift items that belonged to your loved one to family members and friends. Personally select the items and tell each person why you picked that gift for them. These will become treasured gifts.

9. Pass the torch of a former tradition to another member of the family. If dad always carved the turkey, now may be time to select the next in line. If mom always hosted dinner, now may be the time to have someone else in the family step into that role.

10. Serve one of your loved one’s favorite dishes at your holiday dinner. If your dad’s favorite food of all time was cheeseburgers, fire up the grill and serve them. If mom loved hot fudge sundaes, enjoy them for dessert. A recent episode of the popular TV series “This is Us”, showed Jack’s brother bringing 5 pounds of shrimp to Thanksgiving dinner because that’s what they ate at their “best Thanksgiving ever” as young men. It instantly became a NEW family tradition.

May you find some comfort and joy in your past memories and in the new traditions you begin.

Sherrie Dunlevy is an author, speaker and Inspirationista. She is the mother of her adult son, Trey, and Brandon, who lives in heaven. For more information, to order her best selling book “How Can I Help?” or to hire Sherrie to speak at your conference, workshop or special event go to or contact her at

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