Grief, Children, You and the Holidays

by Larry Barber

A young mother whose son was killed in a fire started by outdoor Christmas lights expressed her fear of the upcoming first Christmas following his death. She did not have the energy to carry on as usual, and she was getting messages from the family that they expected her to do just that. Through grief support, she was able to adapt her holidays to fit her and her surviving child’s needs. She needed permission to change the routine because she felt the old routine would be too painful. She chose to go away for the holidays and reported a surprising success of getting through them. She also gained hope that one day she might be able to enjoy the holidays again because she felt empowered to be in control of how she celebrated, if she celebrated.

Following the death of a loved one, there are many firsts. One of the most difficult firsts can be the holidays. The following are some thoughts on how to help your family cope through the holiday season.


  • Prepare children for changes in routine. It is perfectly acceptable to make changes in holiday routines, perhaps even preferable, but remember to prepare children well in advance for changes to holiday traditions.
  • Include children and teens in planning. A family meeting to decide what changes will be appropriate for celebrating the holidays can alleviate a child’s feeling of being left out.
  • If a child appears to need extra reassurance during the holidays, remember they may have feelings of sadness, guilt, etc. that they are struggling with.
  • Children may “regress” (find comfort in earlier behaviors) during the stress of the holidays.
  • Children need opportunities to express their feelings and fears. Plan a ritual for remembering your loved one around the holiday season.
  • Plan some extra time to spend one on one with your children during the holidays.
  • Don’t let the world dictate your schedule.


  • You are the best person to know what you need to care for yourself. Be kinder to yourself than you have ever been during the holiday season.
  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve OR to spend the holidays. Choose activities or solitude based on your needs.
  • Watch out for over-commitment during the holidays. Say “no.”
  • Treat yourself.
  • Give yourself credit for accomplishing the “firsts” as they come along.
  • Be with people you want to spend time with. Say “no” to those you feel would need more energy than you have to give.


  • Buy a gift for your loved one. Give it to someone who needs it. You will receive twice the pleasure. (This may be too difficult for someone whose loss is recent.)
  • Donate money to a special cause in your loved one’s name or volunteer your time and/or talents.
  • Contribute a poinsettia to your church sanctuary (or to a local nursing home or school) in your loved one’s name.
  • Talk about the deceased with those you are comfortable sharing.
  • Plan a time for remembering. Set a place for them at the table, hang a stocking, retell stories of them.


  • An anniversary of the death of a loved one can cause anxiety and stress, which are normal grief reactions.
  • Give yourself permission to feel your own feelings about the day and plan how you want to spend your time.
  • Remember that anticipation is sometimes worse than going through the actual day.
  • Don’t allow others to dictate the extent to which you observe the day.

GriefWorks is a free grief support group program for children ages five to eighteen that have experienced the death of someone close to them. Love Never Dies is a faith-based support group for adults who are grieving.

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