striped cat lying on floor reaching out one paw to touch Christmas white lights

Celebrating the Holidays

Mother and Child

“Mother and Child”–A beautiful Christmas carol once upon a blue-sky moon. How much I wish my heart could still sing “Silent Night.” Now only “Mother without Child.” Still a mother but having lost her child.

Still a holiday season of expectations. A season rich with symbolic meaning. A season of faith. A season of gathering round. Family. Loved ones. Children. But in a season of connection, rituals, faith, and joy unbridled, I find pain everywhere.

I feel most empty in a season meant to sustain hope.

I’ve been through the heaviness of holiday grief 8 times now. Perhaps the only consistency lies inherent in the reason I write My Forever Son: I lost my only child, my much beloved 20-year-old son, to suicide. Everything after that is completely at the whim of what it takes for me to make it through this time of year.

photo of white mug of hot chocolate with 2 big marshmellows and a cinnamon stick sitting on a book with decorative pinecones and a white lap throw
Sometimes Solitude Brings Serenity

Struggling with What to Do

Holidays absolutely, faithfully, come round each year. My struggle is always the same:

  • To do or not to do
  • To go or not to go
  • To back out of a plan
  • To pull away into solitude
  • To say “no” when I’ve already said “yes”

I have read–and continue to read as the holidays come round again–copious amounts of helpful tips and strategies for bereaved parents coping with holiday grief. Perhaps some of these tips and strategies for how to survive the holidays after the loss of your child will help you too.

It’s Okay Not to Be Okay

What helped the most? Perhaps just realizing that it’s okay not to be okay. Taking each holiday as it comes. Knowing I can do things differently. Collecting a bevy of helpful tips, resources, and strategies. Taking time to honor my grief.

It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. No one can take that pain away, but grief is not just pain, grief is love. 

David Kessler,

How to Survive the Holidays

(The First of the Ongoing Series: Holiday Grief Series-Surviving Grief After Suicide Loss)

Included below are helpful tips for getting through the holidays and ways to survive grief at the holidays when you are a parent who has lost a child.

“Surviving the Holidays”

by David Kessler

‘The holidays are times spent with our loved ones.’ This has been imprinted on our psyche from a young age. Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family. But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can we celebrate togetherness when there is none?

When you lose someone special, your world lacks its celebratory qualities. Holidays magnify that loss. The sadness deepens and the loneliness can feel isolating. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and/or it isn’t a harder time of the year is just not the truth for you. But you can – and will – get through the holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. No one can take that pain away, but grief is not just pain, grief is love. 

Follow your intuition and do what feels best to you. You can always choose a different way to observe the occasion the next time.

David Kessler,
Christmas Cheer
Holiday Grief Series: Handling the Holidays After Suicide Loss

Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Losing a Child to Suicide

  • Think about your family’s holiday traditions. Consider which ones you would like to continue, and which you would not. Consider developing new traditions if that feels best.
  • Other family members or friends may feel differently than you do about the way occasions have been celebrated in the past. As you are able, talk openly together about your preferences before the holiday so you will know what to expect.
  • Consider whether you want to be with your family and friends for the holiday, or whether it would be more healing to spend time by yourself this time. Consider taking a trip if that feels right.
  • Be aware that anticipating an event is sometimes harder than the event itself.
  • If you find it comforting to talk about your loved one, let your family and friends know that in advance. Tell them it’s okay to mention your loved one’s name.
  • If you would find it comforting, make a plan to get your loved one’s friends and family together to acknowledge her or his birthday. If spending the day alone feels like a better choice, or with just one or two close friends or family, that’s okay, too.

Read more tips at

Help, Hope, Healing After Suicide Loss: Support, Books, Resources, My Forever Son

Holiday Bill of Rights for Those Experiencing Grief

Adapted from other sources, this list reminds you that you have a right to experience your grief on your own terms: 

  1. You have the right to say “time out” anytime you need – to arrive late or step away from family gatherings early, to be alone without explanation when you need to grieve in the quiet, to walk outside when you feel overwhelmed.
  2. You have the right to tell others how you are feeling with honesty – you’re not obligated to answer the way others might expect or want.
  3. You have the right to not be joyful every single moment of the holiday, but if you look for and feel joy and love during the holidays you have an equal right to that, too.
  4. You have the right not to send out holiday cards.
  5. You have the right to not listen to holiday music or participate in gift exchanges and/or holiday celebrations.
  6. You have the right to be excited about going holiday shopping then change your mind when you get there, or buy a present for your loved one and do what you want with it.
  7. You have the right to laugh at unexpected times.
  8. You have the right to be angry.
  9. You have the right to long to have your loved one back, to have the life you once had.
  10. You have the right to find a way to honor and remember your loved one during the holidays by whatever ritual you feel comfortable with.

*Excerpts can be found in their entirety at AFSP, “Healing Through the Holidays, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention*

Find additional tips for dealing with the holidays without your child here: “9 Tips for Dealing With the Loss of a Child at the Holidays”


“Taking Care of Yourself This Holiday Season”

red rose in full bloom close up

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