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Healing rituals for holiday grief

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For many of us, the holidays are a joyful time with family, friends, and other loved ones.broken heart

But if you’ve lost a loved one during the year, this time of year may very well be the opposite of  joyful.

I hope this short article I first posted on my therapy website is helpful for those of you who are struggling this year.

Holidays without your loved one . . .

can be painful and lonely. Especially if it’s the first time the holiday has rolled around after your loss.

Sometimes it’s helpful to create a small ritual to help you remain connected to your loved one while still acknowledging your loss on this special day.

Get your closest friends together, the people you feel the safest with, and create a ritual to remember your loved one during a holiday. Or do the ritual by yourself. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Write a letter to your loved one expressing your feelings during the holiday. Put it in a box and gift-wrap it. Then, put it under the Christmas tree or on a table – wherever you used to place it when your loved one was alive – and keep it as long as you like.  Or try these ideas with your ritual group: bury the box in a special place outside; burn the box and visualize releasing your feelings as the ashes float upward; have one of your friends open the box and read the letter to your ritual group.
  • Ask your ritual group to gather and have each person recall favorite stories about your loved one. You might want to structure it by having them tell stories about their holiday memories of your loved one, how they met your loved one, or what your loved one would say or do that would make them laugh the hardest.

  • Have an evening gathering at the graveside or memorial area for your loved one. Prior to the gathering, tell your ritual group to be prepared with poetry, a song, or a story about your loved one. Ask everyone to bring candles. Put a large unlit candle in the center of your gathering. As each person tells their story, have him/her light his/her own candle. When everyone finishes, have the whole group put their candles to the unlit one in the center and, as it lights, invite all to say a word or phrase to your loved one at the same time. Examples might be: “Blessings,” “I miss you,” “You are loved,” “laughter,” etc. End the ritual as you wish. Perhaps by having everyone blow out their own candles and meditating on the center candle. Or ask people to blow out their candles when they are ready. You blow out the center candle when you are ready.
  • At dinner for the holiday, ask everyone to close their eyes, and when ready, say the name of your loved one and names of people your guests have lost. You can do this quietly to yourself, too, if you would rather not have the larger group do it.
  • Buy or make a card for your loved one at the holiday. Write a letter to him or her sharing your feelings and your journey of grief. Put the card aside in a special box. Do the same as each holiday passes. Not only have you connected with your loved one, you are also keeping a journal of your journey.

If these don’t feel comfortable for you, create any process you wish that will help you honor your loved one and ease this time of year for you.


Do you have other ideas how to help someone who is grieving make it through the holidays?

Please be sure to share this with people you know who might need it this year.


I’m very honored to have this article published in the winter issue of TAPS magazine (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). Let’s especially keep in mind those in our community who have lost service members in their families this year.



One Comment

  1. Awesome Post! While I continue to do my morning ritual and evening ritual daily, I’ve also noticed that I’ve developed my own “Daily Success Ritual” that I use throughout the day to perform at the highest level possible.

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.