First Holidays Without Loved One

Updated on November 17, 2010
L.S. asks from Phoenixville, PA
24 answers

This is our family's first holiday after suffering the sudden loss of my sister. We have been doing well throughout the year, but since she passed away in January, most of our last memories with her are from thanksgiving, christmas, and New Years last year.

It is beyond hard, and I just wish someone could give me some guidance as to how to help myself, my family and her 2 children get through this season. Her kids were older, now 17 & 18. So we all know it will be hard...

It just seems as though we are all under the mindset of there is really nothing to be thankful for this year, and christmas will undoubtetly be very hard as this was our biggest holiday together.

We are not that religious and prayers do not take away the loss or pain... so it doesn't help to hear this kind of help (Not that I am knocking it, people should beleive whatever they choose)

I have just never been so miserable and I don't even want to start christmas shopping, cause I truly don't want anything to do with it this year... is it okay to skip the whole "Happy Holiday" thing and just have a small quiet dinner at my house for My immediate family so we can greive through this season?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

It is absolutely allright to skip it this year. I would advise though to find out what the kids would like and maybe take their cue if you possibly can. Maybe you can even donate what you would have spent shopping to a family in need in her name. Or seek to help in any way that 'she' would have liked-favorite charity, school, etc. Or maybe use the money you would have spent to go away somewhere for the holiday- I know a family who did that when they lost their father.
I am so sorry for you to have to go through this.

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answers from Philadelphia on

My sister in law passed away last December.It was not expected. We had a Memorial service for her in Ocean City,NJ at the beginning of the year. A beach house was rented there and everyone in the immediate family came and hung out. Since then, my sister in law has rented the same house.They grew up in OC New Jersey. I think it makes her feel closer to her. I do not think she would have wanted everyone to be sad. Hang out in a place that she liked and talk about her. Have a memorial service for her or a rememberance. I think you should speak of good times. Make some of her favorite dishes for Thanksgiving. Celebrate her life not her death.


answers from Allentown on

Hi, L.:

Treat the holidays as if she were with you.
It will be difficult for you and the family because the memories are so raw.
It is okay to grieve. Things will get better in time.

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answers from New York on

I am so sorry for your loss and can empathize with where you are right now. We lost our 2 yr old nephew just after Thanksgiving last year and we were all pretty much numb through Valentine's Day.

My husband and I were actually having this conversation last night. We have had a really difficult year with several deaths in the immediate family, most expected, but still difficult. Our family is still grieving the loss of a baby who literally went down for a nap and never woke up. Because of the timing, the holidays have become a series of mixed emotions this year. I too was having a hard time finding things to be thankful for, so here's what we're doing.

Be open and acknowledge how you are feeling. If you have young children, you need to have some things under the tree. If your children are older, do gift cards and take them shopping one day during their school vacation. Make a day out of it- shopping, lunch, movie, whatever. Just make it different and tell them why. Please don't over-indulge this year b/c nothing will fill the void.

It is absolutely okay to have a small dinner this year, but try to focus on how blessed you are to have eachother. Remember your sister and celebrate her life in a meaningful way. As a family, we all agreed to purchase at least one toy for charity each year in AJ's name for a toddler. I think my husband and I spent more time on that toy purchase this year than any others b/c we wanted it to be a really great item for a child in need.

As for the gratitude thing, we literally sat last night with a pen and sheet of paper and listed all things we are thankful for and why.

For me...
- I am thankful that we enrolled our son in "mommy-and-me" swim lessons. I took a promotion this year (also thankful for) that has me away from home more and this class gives us "time" each weekend
- I am thankful that we were able to hire a housekeeper which has also given us back our time
- I am thankful for my husband because he quietly makes all of my hopes and dreams come true without asking for ANYTHING in return
- I am thankful for my toddler who makes me smile every day and who loves me in sweats (not a suit) b/c that means play time!
- I am thankful that all family members are still employed and able to pay their bills
- I am thankful for my parents and grandparents for instilling a true sense of family and faith in their children (I could not have gotten through the last year without these two pillars)

Find gratitude in small things this year and find solace in the fact that with time you will find joy (different than gratitude) in your life again.

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answers from Philadelphia on

You need to do what is best for your family.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Absolutely! Have the small, quiet dinner if that's what you choose to do.
My dear stepfather died 5 years ago this year, 10 days before Christmas. I had a 2.5 yo at the time, or believe me, we would have just skipped the holiday and celebration.
My best, non-religious advice for you--remember your sister over dinner, talk about her, your memories, cry and grieve. It will be done. might as well be now.
I'm very sorry for the loss of your sister. God bless.

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answers from Washington DC on

I can only imagine how you feel right now. Loss of any kind is not easy to deal with. Loosing one of my grandmother's right before Christmas and miscarrying my first pregnancy at the same time absolutely sucked.
Try to think of what SHE would expect of you. I'm sure she would not want her family to be unhappy. Try wrapping your head around a project that would benefit others in her name. I found that when my Christmas list began to rapidly shrink with the loss of several family members in recent years I started purchasing more stuff for charity. I figured they would like being honored in that way and it helped me to know I could provide a smile for someone less fortunate than I during the holidays.

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answers from Detroit on

I think it's absolutely fine to have your smaller holiday in remembrance. Dedicate your holiday to the thoughts and fun times you had with your sister. Watch some old home movies (if you have some).

December 6th will be 2yrs that my grandmother passed away very suddenly. One of the most difficult things about that... We all had already bought/made her gifts. No one wanted to take anything back. She'd just had her bday in November and decided to wait for her angioplasty (sp?) until after her bday/Thanksgiving. And when my family had pictures developed from Thanksgiving... The last hug I ever had with her was amongst those.

I'm sure the family will completely understand. She's proof that you never know what can happen... Be thankful that you had such a wonderful person in your life... Maybe be together because of her. Life is short. Enjoy every little hug, arguement, laugh, moment... with the ones you love.

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answers from Chicago on

I am so sorry for your family's loss.
I agree with the 'family meeting' idea. Although everyone may feel as you do- there may be some family members, especially those with children, who will find a lot of comfort and joy in the holiday season. It's perfectly fine if you don't feel that way- but remember not to be offended or take it personally if other family members do. On the same note, that way if you all meet and discuss it, they won't be offended if you don't want to participate in gatherings or more 'traditional' holiday events.

The most important thing is to remember your sister and to help yourself and others honor that memory. Was there any special thing that she liked to do at the holidays? A certain cookie she baked or did her sons go and get the Christmas tree with her? I think upholding traditions like that in her memory might be helpful to her sons in the future, but it is understandable if you just can't face doing it now.

If you don't feel like shopping for gifts, then just don't. Finding old pictures of your sister and putting them into an album for her sons might be the most meaningful gift you could give and might also help you remember happy times with your sister.

Church might not be the answer to helping keep you from depression- but helping others might be the best thing you can do. Find a local food pantry and volunteer. Deliver gifts to needy families in your area- they always need people to deliver at our local coat/gift drive. Find ways to help others and honor your sister's spirit that way- it will mean more than presents in the end.

Above all, don't reproach yourself. You've suffered a terrible loss and of course it will take time to get over it. This is not the year to feel like you need to go on a shopping spree or cook a giant dinner from scratch. Quality time with your loved ones remembering your sister and helping others may get you through this year. I am sure that is what your sister would want- not for you to grieve into a depression, but to remember her with love and try and get what you can out of the season.

Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

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answers from Boise on

You can definitely do that. Also, remember, you can be thankful for the memories. Continue to make her a part of the holidays. Make sure that she isn't the elephant in the middle of the room, remember, cry, share. Denying the pain can make it harder.

But, don't let the loss take away the fact that life does move on, and you need to celebrate and embrace the fact that there are still things out there that make you happy, and to be grateful for. You can start a tradition around her if you would like. Either a place setting for her, or light a candle, even just the fact that when you go around the table, you share a memory of someone departed, and something that you are thankful for now.

Good thoughts to you and your family.

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answers from Anchorage on

Yes, it is fine. Talk with everyone, have a family meeting, and see how everyone feels about the upcoming holidays and put together a plan for the holidays that feels right to everyone and will best help you all cope and get through this together. It is great you have each other to lean on. I am so sorry for your loss.

Blessed Be

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answers from Honolulu on

Yes its fine.

You are all still 'grieving'... just do what you can manage.
Don't pressure yourself.

My Dad, died 10 years ago... I still miss him. For us, we put a Christmas stocking on our fireplace for him... so that we and our kids can 'remember' him and still feel he is with us.
They are not 'gone'.... but in our hearts....

...also what helped a great deal... is that my Mom attended a "grief support group".... and she met so many nice people there, who were going through the SAME thing... and it helped her immensely.

hugs and all the best to you,

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answers from Atlanta on

It's fine to do whatever you and your family do or don't feel like doing! Last Christmas was our first without my mother, who had died in September. Because I have small children, I found it helpful to "forge ahead" and still go all out with decorating, etc. That really helped me a lot, but everyone is different. I did what I felt like doing, so follow that same path so you don't feel stressed or put upon by anyone. Don't feel like you have to have a "regular" Christmas this year. It's perfectly okay for all of you to get together and cry or laugh and have dinner or do whatever you want. If there is something special about the holidays that really makes you think of your sister, you may want to highlight that with her family -a certain meal or dish or dessert, a special ornament or decoration or tradition.

Just know that even though the sadness doesn't completely go away, it does become less intense and the waves of grief become less frequent. I feel for you, because it's hard, but no one is going to think anything bad of you if you all keep it really low key this year.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I lost my mother Dec 4, 1993 and didn't want to celebrate either. It's so hard but u have to go on. Take out pics and talk about your sister and trust me her memory lives on. You can always buy family a rememberance gift or ornament to remeber her by or even do something for a less fortunate family in honor of her name. She would not want any of you to just grieve and not celebrate.



answers from Philadelphia on

Dear L.,

I am so sorry about your sister.

I have read through most of the responses and I am touched by all the compassionate & caring replies. And everyone's opinions are their own based on thier own life experience. So, I humbly give you mine.

Do what you want for yourself.

You are hurting, you are sad, you don't "feel" the celebration & thankfulness right now in the season. That is ok. You don't have to feel it. It IS okay for you to listen to yourself and do what you want (and it is not selfish, it is survival). Why do I say this? From my experience.

My mom died 4 yrs ago September. Tears still come to my eyes thinking about it. My birthday is in October, my DD's & husband's and my 2 sister's in November, and then Thanksgiving and Christmas which my family celebrates. So many of my family told me to "do it for mom" or "would mother want you to miss this" or "we have to keep plugging along" and you know what happened? I resented it! If I did "celebrate" and plod on through; I was angry and resentful. I felt ignored. One time I was completely ignored by my brother & SIL when I said I did not want to celebrate my birthday and they told me to meet at a bar to discuss handling mom's ashes and "suprised me" with a celebration - that did not include my husband and 2 children. I was furious!

After this dismissiveness, I decided to start doing what I wanted. And you know what? I was able to find some pleasure in holidays while achingly remembering/ missing my mom. Listen to your needs...

I like the idea to have a family meeting or talk and let everyone feel free to say what they want/ need in the upcoming holiday craziness. And then be honest about what you need/ want and are willing to do.

I have ended some family obligations after the death of my mom, all the while creating new thanksgiving went from over 50 cousins to a small (6-7) dinner away in the mountains where my mom took me every year for my entire life, and I don't miss anything about the change we made.

Listen to everyone but in the end take care of your needs.

My heartfelt condolences,
ann m.



answers from Harrisburg on

I'm sorry for your loss.

My husband lost his father 13 years ago and it's still not easy. My sister-in-law lost her father suddenly just a few months ago. The first year is the hardest and this Thanksgiving we're going down there to be with her and my brother as they can't make it back down to New Orleans until Christmas.

I think one thing that is important is to keep the same routines in general. Too many changes make it more hard. Have plenty of people around for distraction. This is one thing my SIL wants is distraction which is why my 4 kids being there will do just that, lol.

One thing to keep in mind is your sister would not want everyone mired down being sad, I'm sure of that. This is hard but keep in mind that if your sister made holidays fun and enjoyable she'd want you all to continue on with that. Add some fun things to do with the kids like games and video games for the entire family. Feel out the kids and other family members and see if making your sister a focal point of the day is a good thing or something to avoid due to too many painful memories. If it would help to put out her picture and talk about her more, do so. If it would help to avoid discussing her for the day, do that. Just love each other who are there and make your sister happy by smiling for her. If you need to break down, do so in private and don't be afraid to break down if you need to. Have everyone join in the day with cooking and fun ideas to do. Turn on the parade and the football game. Watch Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving all together on DVD and laugh about childhood memories!

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets
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answers from Portland on

Dear L.,

I am so sorry for your loss, and I understand where you are on the 'spirituality spectrum.'

I think that if your family wants to do things this way, it's really okay. I'd check with your niece and nephew to see if this would feel okay for them, too. Some families like to bring a few pictures of their loved one who has passed and create a little special space to honor them while also taking time to come together. I don't know if it will help to forgo some gifts and make a donation to a charity or cause your sister would have appreciated (Oxfam or your local shelter), but that's another idea if you aren't feeling up to hanging out and opening presents.

Everyone grieves in their own way, and there is no wrong way to grieve. Find good ways to comfort yourself. You don't mention what if you have children, or what ages your children are, and being sensitive to their needs is also important. Your kids will let you know what they want in regard to tradition as they'll likely ask for things they feel are "missing". Other than that, no, you don't have to go all out. And if you can call on friends to help your kids get the Christmas-y activities in, that will help too.

My heart goes out to you-- my brother-in-law passed away about a month ago, unexpectedly. We will all be helping my sister through this process as well.



answers from Albuquerque on

As humans are hearts are selfish and hang on tight to the ones we love death is part of living. I know if I died today I would want my family to remeber me at that time of year and say she loved Christmas and would want us to continue our traditons you life shouldnt stop with a death ( I lost a son my mother and brother) I hurt for them but I know that if it was switched I would want them to foucs on living life to the fullest not to mourn my death. Instead of grieving her death celebrate her life and family... It gets better dear but my faith is what guides me and lets me know that they are ok Im the one hurting. I know your not religous but holidays are supposed to be about family and foucsing on what you do have.
Im sorry I know the pain you feel but I bet there are people in your life who you can be thankful that are there with you right now.



answers from Lancaster on


I am so sorry for your loss. I too lost a sibling this year and question how to handle the holiday season. I have some opinions on the subject, however, as most have already stated--do what is best for you and your family.

I agree that a small dinner at home is very appropriate and will not be so taxing for you during this difficult time when everything may seem so overwhelming (at least it has been for me). I would encourage you to continue to bond with your sister's children in some way so that family relationships can be strengthened by this terrible loss. I would also look for a new tradition to honor and remember your sister. Remember the good memories about your sister and focus on that because that can be so comforting and healing.

I wish you the best during this time and I hope you can find comfort in whatever you choose.



answers from Los Angeles on

Sending you much peace and solace right now! We lost my FIL this past July and this will be a tough holiday season, for sure. Everyone grieves differently. I would probably take some direction from her husband (if she had one) and her two children and see what they are feeling about holiday plans. It will be different, but sometimes keeping those traditions is what keeps us all "together", if you know what I mean.



answers from Allentown on

First let me say how sorry I am for your loss. I lost my brother In Sept 2009 at a young age and he left behind 2 young children. The holidays after were especially painful the first year but we carried on with the tradition of all gathering together on Christmas Eve. We placed a candle on the table with a picture of my brother by it to remind us that he was with us. My sister-in-law had asked everyone (ahead of time) to write a letter to her children of good memories we had of their dad. We placed them all in a stocking and they were going to open and read then Christmas morning. You have to do what feels right for you. Everyone deals with sadness differently. I don't think the sadness will ever go away but the intensity of the pain will lessen over the years.



answers from Grand Forks on

i'm so sorry about your mom died 11/4/09 and i refused to do any thanksgiving/christmas celebration. i say give your heart one whole year before you do holidays. it was just too painful for me anyway.
i'll be doing holidays this year w/my itty tiny family, but it's still gonna hurt like hell, but i think it'll get better. it's already better fr last year.
that's my advice. wait a year and don't be hard on yourself for that or let anyone make you feel guilty. wishes of healing to you... :(



answers from Pittsburgh on

You've received a lot of good responses, but I'm going to throw mine in here as well.

We lost my MIL 2 days after Christmas in 2003. She left behind 3 adult, married children, and 3 children still in elementary school. For our family, it wasn't possible to skip the holidays entirely, but it wasn't easy. We just made the effort to be together as much as possible, and for us, it was easier to get through with lots of others around us. However, this isn't for everyone, as we all grieve and cope in different ways.

If you and your family feel that the way to handle the holiday season this year is to keep it small and simple, then do so. However, I recommend getting the word out to extended family that this is what you are doing, and that you hope they respect your wishes.

You also mentioned that your sister's children are older, so make sure they have a say in this season as well. I agree with what other posters have said about trying to find things to be thankful for and ways to honor your sister (cook her favorite food, get together to watch her favorite holiday movie, etc..) to help you get through the next few weeks. It's not going to be easy, and some of it will be more painful than others, but you will get through it together.

It's never easy, and although time will take away the rawness of the loss, it won't erase it. Focus on each other, and don't let expectations dictate how you "do" the holidays this year.



answers from Kansas City on

Is that what your sister would of wanted? for you to skip it probably not I know how you feel I lost me dad 10 yrs this year and it is still hard but I have kept traditions going that he did with us as kids on to my kids and I've started my own you never get over the loss and being the first holiday without her yes it will be very hard but somehow push through it and stay strong!

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