When a Family Member Isn’t There This Holiday: 4 Healthy Responses

December 22, 2018

Categories: Family,Holidays

For many of us, the holidays are a time of fun, excitement, and connecting with family and friends. But for others of us, the holidays can be a time of deep sadness and loss. This can be especially true if you lost someone close to you this past year. I know this is true for my family. My uncle Keith passed away from cancer last fall. When there is an empty seat at the dinner table this Christmas, it can be a painful reminder of the loved one you have lost.

When we are missing a family member during the holiday season, how can we respond in a healthy way? How can we honor our sadness and loss, while at the same time feel grateful for what we do have, and enjoy the holiday season? Here are some thoughts for what to do when a family member isn’t here this holiday:

4 Healthy Responses

  1. All feelings are okay. Some people get frustrated when they feel sadness or loss around the holidays. They might think, “It’s Christmas—I’m supposed to feel happy!” Try not to judge your feelings, and remember that all feelings are okay. The reality is that for most of us, the holidays are a mix of joy and sadness. If you have lost someone close to you this past year, it is perfectly normal to feel sadness and loss when you are reminded of them. If you try really hard to NOT feel a certain way, this can become its own problem.
  2. Honor the family member who passed away. Sometimes it can be helpful to find a way to honor the family member who has passed away. One of the best ways to do this is to be in community with your other family members, because they might be feeling sad also. For example, you might schedule a time during your holiday where you get together with your family and share your favorite memories of the family member who passed away. In this way, you are helping your family (and yourself) grieve by honoring the memory of the family member.
  3. Utilize your coping strategies. We each have different ways of coping with sadness and loss. Think about what coping strategies have worked for you in the past, and try to utilize them during the holiday season. Some examples of healthy coping strategies are talking through your feelings with a friend, journaling, exercising, praying, meditating, and going to counseling.
  4. Practice gratitude. This might seem counter-intuitive, because you might feel stuck in your feelings of sadness and loss. But sometimes we tend to narrow our focus on the things we are upset about, and forget about all the other things in our life that are going well. So, it can be helpful to shift your focus toward the things in your life that you are thankful for. Another idea for practicing gratitude is to think about whether you might have any feelings of gratitude toward the family member whom you lost this year. For example, although I feel a deep sense of sadness about my uncle’s passing, I also feel gratitude about the close relationship I had with him, and how he contributed to the person I am today.


How are you feeling this holiday season? What has helped you when a family member isn’t there during the holidays?


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