Remembering loved ones at Christmas

If you've been bereaved, what's the best way to handle it at Christmas?

Remembering loved ones at Christmas

Editor's note: Last year when we published this a number of people approached us – through Twitter and emails – to say how hard Christmas can be for bereaved families and how much they appreciated an article that acknowledged this and provided some means of coping. With that in mind, we've brought it out again for Christmas 2011.

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of year for families to get together. But sometimes when our families gather, this is when we notice the empty spaces the most.

Whether this is your first Christmas without someone you love, or if it's many years since you were bereaved, it can still be a tough time of year for anyone who has lost someone special. These are some of the things you might do to remember your missing loved ones at Christmas:

  • Put a decoration on the tree in their memory
    I have a decoration with my brother's name engraved on it which he was given as a child. Sadly he passed away 18 years ago and so never met my children, but I think this is a nice way to remember him. Perhaps you or your children could create a decoration for your loved one.
  • As part of your Christmas meal, make a special toast to family members no longer around
    This could be an opportunity to focus on the happy memories they have given you. We also use my late granny's trifle bowl for our traditional Christmas Eve trifle, so she is still at the table in spirit (though probably not too happy that we are using her best crystal bowl).
  • Light a candle in your local church or at home in their memory
    I have wandered into random churches to do this and they never seem to mind as long as you leave a few pennies in the collection box. It helps to have a physical action to symbolise your feelings, and help you move on.
  • Talk about your feelings
    Your children won't understand how you're feeling, and will likely be hyped up by the thought of Christmas. Try not to get irritated by this. It's OK to say "I'm feeling sad because I'm thinking about Grandad" - and perhaps their mood can lift you up as well.
  • Be kind to yourself
    When the rest of the world seems to be showing its happiest face, it can be hard to admit that you feel sad. But it's OK to pause, or take a step away from the celebrations. It's OK to feel sad sometimes, it's a natural part of bereavement.
  • Don't over-crowd your calendar and take it easy when you need to
    My dad died on the 23rd December 2003 and was buried on Boxing Day. I always tend to feel a bit wobbly on the 23rd, so I don't plan much for that day and tend to spend it quietly. But neither do I let his death overshadow Christmas because I don't think that's what he would have wanted.


Further information

There are some thoughtful tips here specially for bereaved parents at Christmas. And this article is  for anyone who has lost a partner and is facing their first Christmas alone.

Cruse Bereavement Care are a nationwide organisation offering a telephone helpline, face to face support and online resources.

Your GP is the first person to talk to if you would like to find a bereavement counsellor in your area.


  • Ellen


    Ellen Arnison

    10 December, 2010

    That's lovely thanks. We seem to have one or two empty spaces this year and your post has some good suggestions.

  • Linda


    Linda Jones, Editor

    10 December, 2010

    Hi Joanne, thank you so much for such a thoughtful and well put together post on such a sensitive subject. As you know I was working on a book about children and bereavement, it's such an important part of life but so often overlooked. I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas, something tells me you will and there will be lots and lots of laughs. xx

  • Small_blank


    Ready for Ten admin

    10 December, 2010

    Thank you Joanne what a lovely post. We have empty spaces at our table too and you have made some really thoughtful suggestions to help us share our Christmas with those that we love, that can't be with us.

    We talk opening to our children about their three grandparents that live in heaven, so I think making a decoration for them to go on our tree is a really lovely idea that will enable our children to include them in our festivities.

    Ready for Ten Team

  • Small_blank

    18 December, 2010

    Thanks for this. It was the 10th anniversary of my dad's death yesterday and I blogged about it. As it turned out, I cried more writing the post and reading it back than I did on the day itself. It helped me set my mind about lots of things. As it turned out, I didn't get the chance to have much time to myself as my kids finished school early for end of term and I was chasing round after them.

    Lots of people do assume that everyone is happy because it is Christmas but honestly? That ain't true? People grieving over lost loved ones or the end of a special relationship for whatever reason will feel the loss more keenly at Christmas than at any other time. Especially if it means you are left lonely when everyone else is spending quality time with family or friends.

    Anyway, my blog post is here:
    if you want to take a look.

  • Small_blank

    24 December, 2010

    Lovely post. My Dad passed away this year and it will be my first year without either of my parents. It's going to be a bit strange, but I'll be raising a glass to both Mum and Dad on Christmas day. Thanks.

  • Alison p


    Alison Percival

    03 December, 2011

    Really good post Joanne. The trifle bowl rang a bell. I think of all of these ideas are so helpful.

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