Facing the Holidays after the Death of a Dear One - Counseling & Therapy Services - The Juniper Center

By Don Rossoff, ALMFT, Certified Grief Counseling Specialist


For most, holidays are synonymous with family. Celebrating In the presence of family most often brings joy and instills meaning. But in the aftermath of the death of one of the family members, there is a conspicuously empty chair at the table and a hollow void in the hearts of those who sit around it. The grief that each one carries into the room is like a suitcase full of boulders that weigh down the heart and dampen joy.


Some deal with the loss by not mentioning it or the loved one.

That is one way to cope, but it leaves one still carrying the painful burden of sorrow. In my experience, it is better to name the loss and acknowledge both the absence of the dear one and their enduring presence.


By naming the loss and honoring the memory of the one no longer physically there, family members can unpack much of that baggage and proceed to feel less burdened. This is best done towards the beginning of the celebration – either around the dinner table or sitting in a circle in the living room.


Ways in which the family might honor the memory of the loved one include:

  • Lighting a candle at the beginning of the meal to symbolize the continuing presence of the loved one in each family member’s heart.
  • Addressing the empty chair, family members can express gratitude to the loved one who used to sit there.
  • Sharing memories of something the loved one had said or done or her/his way of being which they particularly cherish.

There will be tears. (Tears are unfiltered emotions.)  Most likely, there will also be laughter. Neither should be judged, and both should be honored.

This will vary depending on several factors, including how recent the death was. The first holiday after the loss will be very difficult. The second will also be difficult, but not as much as the first. This is one of the ways which enable family members, in the words of David Kessler, not to “move on” but to “move forward.”


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