How Do I Face the Holidays without My Loved One?

December 23, 2023 ◊ By Elisa Everts ◊

How Do I Face the Holidays without My Loved One?

The best holiday presents involve the presence of those who’ve passed being with us in the present.

The holidays can be the most beautiful time of the year spent with friends and family, with those dearest to us. But what do we do when there is an empty seat at the table, indeed as the empty seats around the table multiply with the years? One loved one passes and then another. A grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a beloved spouse, or God forbid, a child. In the agony of their absence, we may be tempted to see only the emptiness, the holes in the family pictures, the silence where once we heard their laughter and their beautiful voices.

It is so important to remember that a loved one does not cease to be a friend or a member of our family just because they are no longer with us in body. We keep them present by actively choosing to remember them in the present. As we remember them, we remind each other that they are eternally a part of us, a part of our family, a part of our souls.

There are many ways we can keep our lost loved ones close to us and celebrate their memories instead of giving in to the temptation to be lost in the agony of separation. I believe you can maintain a connection with your loved ones who have passed. In fact, this is key to healthy grieving. You do this by actively choosing to remember and celebrate them. I love the idea that time is not linear, that all time, past, present, and future are really co-present. That, to me, means that the past is part of the present, and those in our pasts are with us in our presents.

When you are alone you may wish to talk to your loved one about the holiday. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It means you still have a relationship beyond the grave. Your heart doesn’t stop expressing its love just because of bereavement. When you are together with others who share your love for them, you may remember them by talking about them to each other.

One way to keep them close is to set a place for them at table and place a favorite picture of them at the table setting. This is a way of holding space for them. Another way is to go around and invite other celebrants to share a fond memory of them, especially when the loss has been recent and everyone is still in need of ways to actively, lovingly grieve, in community. Storytelling is a wonderful way to maintain connections with our lost loved ones while simultaneously building connections with those who remain with us.

We might wear something or give a gift that brings their memory to life, vividly in all our minds. You can be creative in coming up with new family traditions that keep loved ones with you. Don’t be afraid of a few tears that show how much love still flows for them. They are not signs of weakness. They are just  liquid love.

My grandmother was a passionate fan of the color red and an equally avid hater of the color green. Sometimes we wear red to remember her. One year when she was still alive, however, we all wore green on Christmas Eve as a joke for her, just to prank her. I think she was secretly flattered that we put that much thought into what she liked and didn’t like. She used to decorate her house and yard so elaborately that people would come from 50 to 100 miles around in rural Kansas to appreciate her personal festival of lights. We tell these stories and many others when we are together. My grandmother is always with us. We bring her to life by the ways we celebrate her memory. She is in many ways still very much alive among us and within us.

The thing you may be tempted to do but must not, is keep silent about your loved one, your love, your grief, your feelings. Everyone is hurting and your other loved ones need to know that it’s ok for them to speak the name of their loved one and express some of their feelings. Grief gets arrested and causes great harm when you stifle and smother it instead of finding ways to let it run its course. The only way to get through grief is to let yourself feel all the feelings. Let each other feel all the feelings too.

Some emotion can be shared at the holidays without wrecking the holiday. Silence will cause far more emotional and social wreckage than sharing your hearts with each other will. If you are afraid of emotions getting out of control, one possibility is setting aside 20 minutes to talk about the deceased at a certain point and then moving on with other festivities.

But please don’t muzzle your hearts. Grief is just another word for love. It’s the love we feel after the beloved is no longer physically with us. Though apart from you in body, you get to choose to keep them in your heart forever. Healthy grieving is critical to the achievement of keeping them alive in your heart.

I hope this newsletter gives you some ideas for new traditions you might create to comfort and encourage one another and bring joy into your grieving process. Grieving is a process that never really finishes. It is a lifetime process. Little by little it can be transformed from excruciating pain into loving joyful memories.

I hope your holiday is filled with beautiful memories from the past, combined with the beautiful new memories you are about to create. I pray this for you this holiday season.

In love,
Elisa Everts

(In my next blog post I’ll talk to you about complicated grief and some of the physical, mental and social effects of not grieving freely).

Elisa square portrait

About the author

Dr. Elisa Everts is the founder of Evertree Hope Management and is a dynamic public speaker, author and trainer. Dr Everts is passionate about helping cancer patients and bereaved people in their quest to survive and live a full life during and after cancer and grief. She has the personal experience of surviving Stage IV cancer and the loss of many loved ones. She understands the challenges inherent in these experiences and the importance of cultivating hope through the stories we tell others, and even more importantly, to ourselves.

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Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

I speak to medical professionals and patients, helping them provide hope when there seems to be none. If you or your organization need someone to help process the difficult topics of cancer and grief, let's set up a complimentary call, 703-656-6691, ee@elisaeverts.com.

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