Loss of Loved Ones During Holidays

When a loved one has died, the holidays can be very stressful for the spouse, the family members, and friends. As the season approaches, the Cancer Information Service offers some helpful hints to observe these events without your loved one.

Prepare Emotionally for the Holidays

  • Be aware of your expectations of yourself and control them, rather than letting them control you.
  • Plan carefully: rather than be overwhelmed by the season, pick one or two things you want to do rather than do many things you feel you should do.
  • Decide and communicate what you won't do this season, rather than say you can't.

Make Cards and Gifts

  • Christmas cards can be a way of informing friends of the death (John died in September and we are mourning), or you may choose not to send cards this year.
  • Be careful of over giving.
  • Consider using cherished items of the loved one as gifts.

Continue Family Traditions

  • Establish new holiday traditions to memorialize your loved one, such as flowers or a symbolic chair at the table.
  • Old traditions may need to be set aside. Celebrate in a different room than usual or eat out rather than at home.
  • Create a memorial area to your loved one in the home, perhaps reflecting a favorite hobby.
  • Light a memorial candle in a small ceremony each day of the season.
  • Start a family Christmas book to record old and new traditions.
  • Place a fresh flower by a picture of the loved one each day.
  • Contribute money or volunteer time in memory of your loved one as a living memorial.
  • Review the photo album as a family.


  • Decorate with humor.
  • Desensitize yourself to the season gradually with an advent calendar.
  • Decorate with bells, a pagan tradition to ward off evil spirits, or with holly, the symbol of hope.
  • Bring out one or two cherished decorations a day.
  • Purchase new ornaments if the old ones are too painful this season.
  • Trim your home with mistletoe: it gives permission to hug and kiss.
  • Hang a stocking for your loved one and write a note each day about your love for them, to be tucked in the stocking.
  • A living Christmas tree can be used indoors and then transplanted outdoors as a memorial.
  • Hold a tree trimming party: you can participate or feed the trimmers. Perhaps a neighborhood child would like to decorate your tree.
  • Help children choose or create a special decoration for the tree to symbolize their relationship with the loved one.
  • Purchase a special ornament to remember the loved one; decorate the house and tree around the hobbies and talents of your loved one.
  • Decorate with apples, pineapples, and cinnamon; they create a healing aroma.
  • Install birdhouses or feed the wildlife in your yard, bringing life to Christmas.
  • Communicate your openness to receive guests with outdoor luminaries.

Activities and Celebrations

  • Go caroling or provide treats for carolers.
  • Participate in a living nativity.
  • Do something you've always wanted to do (go back to school, develop a talent etc.).
  • Skip fancy meals and dishes if you don't feel like preparing or eating them.
  • Remember pets: they grieve too and need loving attention.
  • Join a support group. Find and make new friends.


  • Do what is right for you during the holidays.
  • Be nice to yourself.
  • Plan ahead for family gatherings.
  • Eliminate unnecessary stress.
  • Treasure memories.
  • Friends are important.
  • Be compassionate.
  • Be patient.
  • Involve children.
  • Offer help to others.

Source: UI Cancer Information Services