The holiday season can often be a stressful time for people, especially for those who are coping with the death of a significant person in their lives. When families and friends gather to celebrate the holidays, these losses can weigh heavily on those left behind.
Children and teens grieve in the context of their families, which means that they learn how to cope with their loss by the way they see their families’ members grieve. When families don’t talk about their losses or feelings, children and teens are also less likely to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings.
View the holidays as a time to honour your person. It can provide comfort to many children and teens to know that the bond between themselves and their person can continue, regardless of whether the person is physically there or not.
Holidays are sometimes seen as a time of celebration but they can also be an opportunity to honour the people who have died by acknowledging them in family gatherings or traditions.
Include the person in traditions. Some cultural practices include setting up a special place in the home to offer food or flowers to the person whom they have lost. At family dinner gatherings, you can set a place for your person, to remember and show your children that there will always be a spot for the person in your lives.
Encourage the sharing of memories. Sharing memories can provide comfort, as many people tend to share the funny or warm stories about their person, leading to smiles and laughter. Often, children and teens fear the loss of memories or not having memories about their person. Sharing stories provides comfort and insight into how other people have known their person.
Embrace “different”. Although we usually attribute traditions to holidays, the death of a family member/friend has already brought on big changes to your lives. You probably already feel like things are and will be different, so it can be a good time to introduce new traditions into your holidays by honouring your person together. Maybe include one of the favourite foods of your person, or do an activity that they liked as a family excursion.
It is okay to cry. Usually holidays are associated with laughter and joy and those who are grieving can often feel that they are not allowed to be sad, or that they will bring others down. Lots of our classic Christmas movies have some sort of tear-jerker moments, so why is it so wrong to be sad? Sadness is a natural and normal emotion to feel, especially if you miss someone.
Some activities you can do as a group or family to honour your person:
- Handout strips of coloured paper. Ask each person to write down a memory about the person who died. After each person has shared their memory, create a paper chain with the strips and hang it somewhere in the home.
- Place clothespins along a set of string lights. Have each person clip a picture or a small object that belonged to the person on the clothes pins. Hang the lights on the wall or on a tree.
- Hand out a ribbon to each family member and have each person write down a word that describes the person. Tie the ribbon onto a tree or a wreath.
- Keep a daily advent calendar starting on December 1st and write down one thought of gratitude about the person for each day.
- Go for a walk, each person wearing something that belonged to the person (ie. shirt, hat, scarf). Or if there is something your person wore all the time (i.e. a specific type of hat) have everyone wear a matching one for the walk.
- At a family gathering, have each person light a candle at the start of the meal. Make time for everyone to gather together at the end of the gathering so that each person can say a wish for their special person before blowing out the candle.
- Get a blank t-shirt and have each person write down/draw something about the person on the shirt. Place the shirt on the chair at the person’s place at the table or their favourite sitting spot.
- A simple way for children to include their special person in their holiday celebrations is through making a memory craft, like this one:
Using Shrinky Dinks shrinkable plastic sheets, trace a print-out of a holiday ornament or shape with a black Sharpie. Next, color in the ornament as desired, leaving space to write the name of your person on the ornament. Alternatively, you could write a birth or anniversary date. Finally, leave space at the top of the ornament to punch a hole using a single hole punch. Cut the ornament out and follow the baking instructions on the Shrinky Dinks package. Watch as your ornament shrinks within minutes and hardens; it’s like magic! Thread some ribbon or twine through the hole and hang.
Some tips to remember when doing memorial activities:
- Involve your child and teen by encouraging them to initiate or plan activities.
- Role model by doing the activities yourself, and having the children and teens see you do it.
- If you would like to do the activity together as a family, make sure to plan the time and space for it by limiting distractions and to avoid feeling rushed.
- Keep the activities simple so that all age ranges and abilities can participate.
- If your child/teen does not want to do the activities, give them the option to pass. Sometimes children and teens may want privacy to do it, so give them the space but have the materials readily available so they can do it on their own time.
- Remember to take care of yourself so that you can be available to listen and support your child or teen if they want to talk about their person and their feelings.