Klinger’s Korner: Navigating the Holidays as a Family

Author: TAPS

The holidays can be challenging times when we are grieving the death of a family member. All the lights, bright colors, and celebratory spirit can stand in stark contrast to the grief we may be feeling. Traditions bringing much meaning to our lives in the past may now serve as reminders of our person’s absence. Simply put, grieving during the holidays is not easy. As challenging as this season can be, it is also a magical time for children filled with happy anticipation, meaningful experiences, and memory-making that they will carry with them for a lifetime. During this time, how do we navigate our grief while also supporting our children’s need to experience all that the holidays can be for them?

mom and daughter at christmas

mom and daughter at christmas

Plan and Prioritize

It can be helpful for us to plan how we will celebrate the holidays with our children. We do not have to do all the things we have done in the past, particularly those that may now be more difficult for us than others. Yet, we need to prioritize some traditions, new or old, that we can participate in together with our children. Children thrive when their environment is predictable. Holiday celebrations and traditions that happen from year to year provide a sense of predictability along with meaningful moments they will cherish. These traditions can also offer a sense of normalcy amid all the difficulties they may be experiencing in their grief.


Acknowledge and Ask

Participating in holiday traditions does not mean that we have to mask our feelings of grief. Children are observant, grieving themselves, and aware that grief makes the holidays different. It is okay to share with your children that this time of year is difficult for you and acknowledge that it also may be difficult for them. Acknowledging your grief and your children’s grief can open lines of communication, creating opportunities for meaningful family connections. You can also ask your children what parts of the holidays they are looking forward to, what their grief is like, and what things worry them. In this way, your family can make a plan together about how to best experience the holidays.


Do Something New

You may also create new traditions or do something different during the holidays. Grief brings about change to our lives. Sometimes long-held traditions lose their luster, and we need to let them go and, instead, do something new. Some have found ways to incorporate the memories of those who have died by lighting candles and purchasing special ornaments. Others have shared that they have created new volunteering traditions during the holiday season or done acts of kindness in memory and honor of their person who died. Whatever you choose to do, having an opportunity to be together as a family will have a lasting, positive impact on your children well into adulthood.

The Gift of Giving

This activity offers a way for your family to connect and remember your loved one. 


  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Pens
  • Notecards
  • Envelopes


Have each family member think of a favorite memory of your loved one and an act of service they can do for other family members, people in the community, or local charities. On notecards, have each person draw a picture and write their special memory and act of service. Before placing them in envelopes, each person may decorate theirs in any way they like. 

As a family, find a time to exchange your notecards as gifts in memory of your special person. Each family member should receive another person’s notecard, not their own. Have each person share the notecard they received with your family. The person who created each notecard may share more about their special memory and why they chose their act of service. 

Either individually or as a family, make a plan to do the act of service in each card in honor of your loved one’s memory.

Evening of Favorites

This activity offers a way for you to remember your loved one while connecting as a family throughout the holiday season.


  • Pens
  • Paper


Together as a family, select dates throughout the holiday season to dedicate evenings for each family member when you will do some of their favorite things. Individuals can look forward to their special nights when everyone will do what they like most. 

What’s Your Favorite...

  • Food
  • Movie
  • Family
  • Activity
  • Game
  • Color

As a family, talk about your loved one’s favorite things. Make a list of these things on a piece of paper.

Select dates throughout the holiday season when you can dedicate special evenings for each family member to do some of their favorite things together as a family. Individuals can look forward to their special evenings when everyone will do what they like most. 

Choose evenings when the family will do some of your loved one’s favorite things. You may also like to take the opportunity to share your favorite memories of your loved one on those special nights.


Photos: TAPS Archives