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Tips: Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2005

The holidays usually make us think of those who are no longer with us or of relationships that are no longer the way we would like them to be. Our loss is more keenly felt as we evoke memories of the past with the person who is absent. The loss is further accentuated because we miss them at our joyous occasions.

Pay attention to who IS present while consciously bringing to mind stories or traditions that were unique to the people who are not there. This can be emotionally moving as well as a wonderful opportunity to recall with joy the gifts you have received from the special people in your lifetime.

To cope with your feelings of loss during the holidays:

• Enrich your life by processing the loss of loved ones and moving forward - That person would want you to be happy. Honor his or her memory by taking time to heal your own heart with reflection while enjoying the holidays with those who are present.

• Create Your Own Traditions - New rituals can serve as a structure to replace family customs that may have been lost when your loved one died.

• Do Something on Behalf of the Individual - Contribute to their favorite charity or commemorate their memory in some way, each year, or each holiday.

By dealing with your feelings of loss in anticipation of and during the holidays, you prepare yourself to celebrate the life of the person and appreciate the gifts they gave you. This is part of healing because when someone dies their loss is felt in different ways throughout our life. By allowing yourself to be open to how your grief transforms you, the chances are greater that you will be more able to appreciate the holiday spirit.

Here are additional TIPS to help you process your feelings of loss:

1. Quietly reflect on our loved one’s life - How are you like them, what fond memories can you recall, what stories about our deceased loved one can you pass down to your children? Visit the cemetery or create a memorial space where you can have time to just "be".

2. Create a remembrance ceremony - Make a candle centerpiece where each candle represents someone who has died. As you light each candle, share a memory about each person. This does not have to be maudlin. It can be a joyous memory, a funny story, something that makes you smile and keeps their memory alive.

3. Continue a tradition they started - Bake grandma's favorite pie, attend a community church service as your deceased mom did, serve at a soup kitchen before dining as a family as your father did.

4. Share memories with other family members - Show pictures from family trips, wear your aunt's heirloom pin and tell others about the day she gave it to you, pass around your mom's scrapbook.

5. Journal - Before and after family gatherings, write down what you feel. Hopefully you will find comfort in releasing your feelings on paper so you can enjoy gatherings with others around you.

6. Include rituals that have been longstanding and begin new ones - Continue legacies that keep memories alive of your loved one and try to incorporate new traditions which will give you and your family a fresh outlook and hope for the future.

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