Three ways you can make the holidays easier while grieving

Written by Clarissa Moll
Published on November 11, 2022

The first year after my husband died, I approached the holidays with trepidation. Honestly, I didn’t feel like celebrating at all. I wanted to hole up in my bedroom, watch a sad movie, and eat pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies until the whole season blew over. 

My kids, however, felt differently. They didn’t see happy memories of holidays past as precluding us from making more. They expected a big holiday meal. They expected to see cousins and grandparents. They expected the hustle and bustle and celebration—all of the things I dreaded. So what could I do?

If you’re parenting through grief this holiday season, you probably feel this tension too. While the particulars of what our kids need change from year to year, rituals of mind and heart can undergird whatever you choose to do (or not do) as you face this difficult season. As you make plans for your upcoming holiday, consider these three ways you can help your kids navigate after loss.

Be the parent.

My husband’s death shouted a resounding “NO” in my children’s lives; and, as we grappled with grief, I discovered that I wanted to say “yes” all the time. Whenever I could, I solicited my children’s advice on decisions. I didn’t want to turn anyone down or deliver more bad news. I just wanted my kids to be happy. Unfortunately, as I tried to make everyone happy, I stopped being a parent. Instead, I became a peer negotiator and a decision moderator, and our family lost its other leader. 

Holidays are filled with a host of decisions. Some require input from our children, but many decisions can and should be made alone. As risky or painful as it can seem, God has placed us as leaders in our families, and our children need us to step up to the task especially in bereavement. 

In the instability of grief, parents who bravely call the shots offer their children the security they need to cope with change. Whether you insist that everyone attend your church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service or decide to forego a family trip in favor of staying home, know that God has gifted you with the wisdom and discernment you need to lead your family through this challenging season. Your leadership will be a gift to your children this holiday.

Get chatty!

You might be amazed at how many unspoken rules dictate your holidays. Dad always carves the turkey. Grandpa reads the Christmas story. The tree stays up till New Year’s Eve. It’s often only after a disruption like a divorce, death, or move where these quiet rules are exposed. 

As you approach the holidays with grieving kids, take time to talk about these unspoken expectations. Spend a car ride communicating about plans as you anticipate the big day. Engage those children who might be a little quieter or more tender this time of year. If the holidays provoke spiritual questions, wrestle with them as a family in developmentally appropriate conversation. Talk to your kids “when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Communication is key to all good relationships and is particularly vital in grief. Even when we grieve a common loss, each of us mourns it differently. Open conversations keep misunderstandings from forming and allow each member of the family to feel included, even when the decisions we make as parents aren’t something our kids would choose.

Just do it.

You don’t have to be a perfectionist to want things just right during the holidays. We would all love a picture perfect Thanksgiving dinner, worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. Unfortunately, grief is disruptive. It shows up whenever and however it likes, regardless of the date you’ve circled on the calendar as special. Because of this, you may find that all goes well until the holiday actually begins. If so, be willing to pivot. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has designed everything for its season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). This season may be one of weeping for your family, or it may be one for laughter. You can feel comfortable making space or changing plans knowing that both are valid expressions of grief after loss. Your children may need this holiday season to be one of planting (Ecclesiastes 3:2)—starting new traditions, releasing old rituals. That’s okay too. The holidays after loss won’t necessarily look pretty, but your willingness to engage in whatever way you can communicates love and commitment to your children. 

As much as we might look at the past through rose colored glasses, our holidays before loss weren’t perfect either. Uncle Bill said awkward things at the dinner table, and cousin Sally spilled cranberry sauce on the while tablecloth. Nevertheless, we created memories together and forged ahead. You can do the same thing as you face the holidays with grief. Your bravery to step forward and  “just do it” will model resilience to little hearts that desperately need hope.

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Clarissa Moll

Clarissa Moll is an award-winning writer and podcaster who helps grieving people thrive after loss. Clarissa’s writing has appeared in Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, RELEVANT, Modern Loss, Grief Digest and more. She is the author of Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Walking with Grief and Thriving After Loss. Clarissa is the cohost Christianity Today’s “Surprised by Grief” podcast and hosts the weekly Hope*Writers podcast, The Writerly Life. Her free 7-day devotional “Disarming Grief’s Myths” offers honest, soulful grief support.

Read more about Clarissa

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