Resources for Families, Individuals and Professionals

Coping with Grief and Loss in the Holiday Season

Ask the Experts by Peggy Nielsen

Q: Our family experienced the recent death of a loved one and now must turn around and face the holidays. How do I help my children celebrate the holidays while recognizing the “elephant in the room,” that we are missing someone?

A: Grief can be overwhelming on any day, and especially difficult during the holidays. First, remember everyone’s grief is unique to them. Encourage honesty about feelings and talk about what you want to do•or not do•for the holidays. Decide what holiday traditions are important for your family to keep, or those you might want to change.

Perhaps there is something new everyone wants to do. Include children and teens in these discussions. Ask for their thoughts and feelings, making all answers safe and important. Make a plan together that works for everyone.

There are many activities you can do in memory or honor of a loved one.

Memory candle: Glass candleholders can be decorated with paint, or a vellum paper can be decorated or printed and taped around the candleholder. Decorate with words or pictures of memories of your loved one. Use a battery operated tea light so that kids can turn it on and off when they choose.

Sharing jar: Invite friends and family to write down a fun memory of the person and put it into a jar. During your holiday gathering, or perhaps later quietly as a family, read the stories about your loved one and remember the fun moments. Put them into a scrapbook if you want to keep them.

“I remember when…”: No art necessary here! At meal or other time, share stories about memories. Remember that laughing and crying are both good for the soul.

Holiday plates: Take a plastic plate and decorate it with permanent markers in memory of the loved one. Top it with a matching clear plastic plate and serve their favorite cookies on it, or if it too difficult to have someone sit in their chair at the table this year, put the plate there in their honor.

Gift giving/traditions: Did you always buy him a plaid shirt each year? Discuss as a family what to do with that tradition•perhaps buy a shirt and donate to someone in need. Did they love hot chocolate? Make the “favorite” hot chocolate and toast your loved one.

Talk with your family about ways to honor your loved ones. Kids come up with great ideas. Encourage creativity.

For more information on helping grieving children and teens or on ideas for the holidays, please visit or call Henry Ford SandCastles at 313-874-6881. Additional resources are available including our Family Holiday Packet: Grief Resources for the Season of Family. By Peggy Nielsen, MA, LPC, Manager of Henry Ford SandCastles Grief Support Program and Camp Erin Detroit Director. SandCastles is a division of Henry Ford Hospice and open to all families in the community with youth ages 3 to 18 who are grieving the death of a loved one. SandCastles offers supportive services in both a bi-weekly year-round program, as well as an annual weekend bereavement camp. Educational presentations are available to learn more about helping grieving children. Services are provided free of charge to families. Donations are welcomed and volunteers are needed. More information can be found at or by calling 313-874-6881. SandCastles Grief Support Program is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

Enriched Communities Through Stronger Families
The Family Center serves as the community’s hub for information, resources and referral for both families and professionals. The Family Center is a non-profit organization founded to promote a deeper understanding of the role of parents and others in supporting our youth to become competent, caring and responsible community members.

All gifts are tax-deductible.
To volunteer or contribute, visit, call (313) 447-1374.
Email: or write to: The Family Center
32 Lake Shore Drive, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236