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Helping Bereaved Children Through the Holidays

Helping Bereaved Children Through the Holidays

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Updated on Jan 28, 2008

For bereaved children and families, traditional events or holidays may be difficult. They may trigger a re-experiencing of feelings that have begun to subside or bring on new feelings such as sadness or anger. Some of these occasions are obvious; Christmas, Mother's Day, the first day of school, without the person who has died. But throughout life there are many situations and occasions that have more private meaning, that may make the loss of a loved one more poignant -- a new baby's first steps or high school graduation without a husband, wife, mother or father to share the joy.

In coping with these events, it may be helpful to keep in mind:
  • Anticipation of the holiday or event often causes as much, if not more, stress than the event itself
  • A family may feel pressured to celebrate the event in a certain way
  • Getting through the "first" - Thanksgiving, Father's Day- often brings relief
  • There is no right or wrong way to handle different events
The following are suggestions to help children deal with celebrations or holidays:
  • Plan ahead as a family for the event
  • Respect everyone's individual feelings and wishes as much as possible
  • Be open to finding and developing new traditions for the event
  • Understand that plans do not have to be perfect; they can be changed over time as feelings and situations change
  • Anticipate awkward moments for children
  • Prepare children for questions or comments from others by role playing possible answers that make them feel comfortable
  • Get specific information about events and inquire about alternatives - e.g. are only fathers invited, can an uncle or close friend step in

There are a variety of ways to mark significant events. The following are some suggested activities that might be helpful in different situations:

  • Continue the same family or religious ritual while acknowledging the changes
  • Visit the cemetery or a favorite spot the family had enjoyed
  • Identify a new place to serve as a special memorial site
  • Start a new traditional activity
  • Write a letter or an essay about the favorite things about the day or person that made the occasion special
  • Make the person's favorite foods or meal in their honor
  • Diagram the family tree
  • Review or make a new scrapbook with stories, drawings, photos
  • Do something in honor of the person who has died: volunteer, make a donation, bake cookies to raise money

 

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