I remember the first Christmas after Jody died. It was doubly tough because her birthday was December 23rd so the family had two ‘notable dates’ to get through the first year of her death. None of us had any idea what to do or how to handle all the issues that came up. We were so ‘stunned’ our primary response was to push it all away; stuff it down, and pray we would all somehow get back to normal.
It was as if we were all walking on eggshells doing our best to avoid any reference to Jody at all just in case emotions came up, or memories were triggered. We all silently hoped no one would use her name by mistake. Jody not being with us was both difficult and unspoken, and it was the silence that was most painful.
The taboo of death had my family firmly in its grip. We didn’t use Jody’s name. We didn’t talk about missing her on her birthday or at Christmas. We didn’t call her widowed husband Roy because we didn’t want to further upset him or his family. We didn’t bring up our fond memories of Jody in case they brought up sad emotions along with them. We just didn’t know what to do so we behaved like it never happened as if it were some kind of weird dream. We simply avoided the fact that this was our first Christmas without Jody and stumbled along keeping silent about her and all she had meant to us.
Now, many years later looking back with more life experience, new skills, tools, and creative ideas there are many thing my family and I could have done to both miss Jody well and celebrate Christmas – to include both the sadness of the missing and the joy of the season.
Listed below are some fun, uplifting, and helpful ideas I came up with that could work for your family too. I am certain you will have many unique ones of your own.
These ideas are however, secondary. Primary, is the need for the surviving family members to talk with each other about the loss, to plan the season’s celebration, and to be prepared for the emotional ups and downs that will show up especially during the first Christmas without your deceased loved one around. During your chat explore some of the ideas below and add your own. Then simply pick the ideas that work best for your family and be prepared to support each other lovingly as the holiday season comes and goes.
- Wrap a gift for your loved one and place it under the tree.
- Place a special Christmas ornament on the tree in honor of your loved one.
- Have a picture of your late family member somewhere close at hand.
- Set a place setting out for them on the Christmas table.
- Have a Christmas stocking prepared for them.
- Tell a story or two about your favorite Christmas memories of them.
- Make a snowman for them.
- Make a donation to a local hospice in their name at a Tree of Light Ceremony.
- Volunteer at a Christmas meal service for the homeless in their honor.
- Light a special Christmas candle for them and place it on the dinner table.
- Say a special blessing for them before Christmas Dinner.
It is good to use their name as you remember them, to tell stories, and to feel as you remember and miss them. It is a good idea to create space during the Christmas Season for your emotions to show up too. These emotions can be a true Christmas present to each other.
Be gentle and kind to each other as the first Christmas without your loved one can be emotionally raw. Your family members will likely be sensitive and perhaps a little overly so. Be the first to forgive a family member and get back gentle love as fast as you can. Holding hands and comforting each other physically is good to do too.
The more open and real you are in your pre-Christmas planning the more graceful your Christmas will be. Remember Silent Night is a song not a recommended practice for the first Christmas without a deceased loved one.
Blessing to you and your family.