A simple way to honor a deceased loved one with your children and extended family members.
Holidays are particularly difficult milestones for the broken-hearted.
Because when grieving, any joy is met with a sweep of sorrow.
I’ve heard of many ideas for how to honor the memory of a deceased loved one during Christmas…
- setting a place for them at the table with an empty chair
- lighting a candle in their memory
- making one of their favorite dishes for the meal
- visiting the gravesite with a wreath or flowers
These are wonderful sentiments and if they work for your family, then maybe you don’t need to read further.
But I have young children.
And we’ve been through a lot of trauma as well, which really complicates the ability to grieve. And other than maybe making my husband’s favorite dessert in his honor, the other options didn’t sit well for my children.
Grieving as a Family:
It’s difficult at holidays because everyone is grieving the loss of your family member and everyone has their own way they want to grieve. Some want to talk a lot about him and others have experienced too much trauma to be able to talk yet. And then there’s a generational nuance as well. Adults want to grieve in a different way than a child can emotionally handle.
So it’s complicated.
And everyone is hurting.
And everyone, in their own pain, needs to be sensitive to the pain of others.
As the surviving spouse, I know that this loss effected the deepest parts of my children. Losing your daddy at a young age is unthinkable. So mama bear has to put the loss my kids experienced and where they are at in the grieving process higher than anyone else’s needs.
For my kids, an empty place setting or a candle just seem ominous and foreboding. (Kind of spooky.) And they can’t emotionally handle visiting the gravesite yet. So I work hard to protect them from pressure to grieve in ways they aren’t yet ready for.
Thankfully, our both Dan’s family and mine all do their very best to be sensitive. And I think we all know that a loss requires extra grace to give when feelings get hurt.
I found myself with options that didn’t feel right for my girls, so I prayed for an idea.
“Lord, please help me. We want to honor Daddy and I need to honor my children’s stage of grieving too. I don’t want to pretend like it never happened and I don’t want to belabor the loss so much that my children can’t soak in some Christmas joy. What do I do?”
We were still in the middle of a move for our first Christmas without Dan. So all of our familiar Christmas decorations were not accessible in military storage.
I went to the dollar store, bought stockings for each of us, and some puff paint to write our names. I couldn’t NOT get one for Dan. So I hung his stocking too. Right beside mine.
Then I had an idea.
Hanging His Stocking Anyway:
What if we spend a few minutes on Christmas day before opening the stockings to honor Dan? I texted the others to let them know ahead of time so they wouldn’t feel surprised by this idea.
The more we communicate what we are envisioning to honor the loved one ahead of time, the more others can say if they’re willing or emotionally able to participate. But if we have an idea and spring it on our loved ones, that can feel like a sucker punch.
Everyone seemed ok with it. So I cut up paper into smaller pieces and passed them out on Christmas day.
Each of us wrote anything we wanted to tell Dan.
Why we love him. How we miss him. What happened that year that we wish he could’ve been here for. Anything. And we dated it with the year.
We folded them up and put them in his stocking.
It felt good to have a tangible (and non-perishable) thing to put in his stocking. And it’ll be a sweet reminder as the years go on of all the ways we missed him and how we’ve taken brave steps forward in our grieving.
Some wanted to read the notes, others didn’t want to take part. And so some stuck around to listen and others went into another room to play. I liked that. Because the most private of our grievers could still participate in writing their notes. And then there was no pressure to read anything out loud or listen and take on other people’s heartache.
Maybe in ten or twenty years from now, those of us who couldn’t handle reading the notes this year might relish in them later. And maybe not.
It feels both meaningful and pressure free.
It can be as private or as communal as each griever needs.
I intend to keep this tradition every year. But that too I have to approach with grace and a read on how everyone is doing that year. I’ve heard that the second year is even harder.
I’m so grateful God answered that prayer.
So here’s to facing another Christmas without your loved one. You are brave. And however you decide to honor your loved one’s memory, whether it’s a private cry or a public toast, know that it’s ok. And there’s a grace for it.
I do wish you a taste of Christmas joy, mingled in with a courage to embrace the sorrow.
Peace be with you.
Feeling discouraged, disappointed, let down, or grieving about Christmas this year? I wrote this three years ago with no idea how meaningful it would be this year for most of us… Please enjoy. May you find unexpected comfort in the realities of the First Noel.
Your turn to process:
- What are ways you like to honor your deceased loved one at Christmas time?
- Is your family quite about it or do they talk about it?
- What has worked and what did not go so well?