First holidays after the death of a loved one can be difficult. And yet, I’m constantly warmed by the ways that families choose to remember their loved ones during this season.
For instance, one family, rather than setting the table for one less set the table as usual. They left a spot for the one who died and chose to put a special remembrance item on the table.
The individual who had died loved snow globes. So every holiday meal without that person included a snow globe at his place at the table. This created not only a way to remember him through his snow globe collection, but also a way to honor both his presence and absence.
By holding a place for him at the table, a conversation of remembering began.
Another family continues to prepare persimmon pudding for their holiday dessert. This item was popular because its original maker had a huge persimmon tree on her property. Her persimmon pudding was made every holiday season — for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And it was made only for those two holidays.
Until her death, no one else had made the persimmon pudding recipe. And yet, that first holiday after her passing it was comforting to make and eat this favorite dessert.
Still other families have chosen to celebrate the holiday season in an entirely different way. By different, I mean that rather than following family traditions – everyone gathers for a shared meal at a restaurant. No one cooks.
For these families doing it differently the first year gives everyone a chance to catch their breath. For them, being somewhere else, eating a meal prepared by someone else, takes the sting out of the “new normal” of the holiday.
Families also find comfort in being invited by friends to participate in the holidays differently. Perhaps surviving family members choose to be part of a “friends” gathering for people who are during the holiday.
The friends gathering is a way to assemble with people to share in a holiday meal. Being invited in this way is another kind of blessing; new people are around the table helping to ease the deep sense of loss.
Years ago, it was also a common holiday tradition to visit a gravesite. In some ways, that tradition has fallen out of practice. But today, families are going to the cemetery to visit – leave a holiday remembrance at the gravesite or to spend a little extra time with the one they love and miss.
I often see poinsettias or wreaths placed at headstones in honor of a loved one. Visiting a gravesite is another way a child can be involved in remembering; they can be invited to write or draw a message to their loved one and leave it.
Creating a new, honoring tradition at the holidays can help everyone come together for remembering. New traditions blended with older ones can create the space for grief and hope for the future to mingle together. Learning to be present for the holidays in a different way is part of the healing process after a loss.