Assemble Your Holiday Survival Kit Now!


It’s here again—the time to assemble my Holiday Survival Kit. I do this every year, well before Thanksgiving, because my deceased daughter was born on this day, and it’s difficult for me.

Almost nine years have elapsed since she died, and as the years passed, the contents of my kit changed. What’s in this year’s kit?

Special plans. My husband is disabled and I’m his primary caregiver. Our plans have to be detailed and I have to consider things like lead-time and wheelchair van parking. I try to plan fun activities, such as a funny movie, seeing holiday lights, and eating at a new restaurant. Every plan is noted on the calendar.

People who understand. This year my brother and sister-in-law are hosting Thanksgiving dinner and we will be with people who understand our grief. I will also attend the monthly chapter meeting of The Compassionate Friends, an international organization for those who have suffered the loss of a child.

Social contacts. Isolation is my enemy and that’s why I connect with others. My husband is a retired physician and we get together with other retirees once a month. Church members and friends have been ongoing sources of support. Book talks get me out of the house and out of myself.

Selected memories. Instead of getting sucked into guilt, I choose to focus on happy memories. One year the Christmas roast was done early. To prevent the dog from eating the roast (which she would do), I put it on top of the car in the garage. The minute family members walked in the door they smelled the roast. “Is that dinner?” one asked. I answered affirmatively. Years later, family members still ask if dinner is on top of the car.

Linking objects. During the holidays I make special effort to use things that connect me with departed loved ones, such as my mother’s World War II cookbook, or her handwritten recipe cards. I use my mother’s cut glass water pitcher. I also like to look at photos of my deceased loved ones.

Spirit of giving. Four loved ones died in 2007 we donate to organizations in their memory:   The Salvation Army, local food bank, the public library, and our church. Our gifts may be monetary, a thoughtful deed, or books I’ve written. I also do a lot of free writing for community groups.

Journaling. Many grief experts tout the benefits of journaling. I don’t keep a separate journal because the articles and books I write act as journals. Putting feelings into words has helped me greatly. Sometimes I’m surprised by the words I see on the computer screen. Writing has helped me understand myself and my grief.journey.

Walking. Before my husband was disabled, we were on a walking program, and walked in our neighborhood. We held hands as we walked, something neighbors noticed. Today, I walk at a health club. While my husband is peddling a special bike to strengthen his legs, I walk a mile on a treadmill. I also use this time to write in my head.

Assemble your Holiday Survival Kit now. Start with my list and include things that work for you. Making a survival kit is what’s important and you can do it.


Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit


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  • Diane Allen says:

    I am not quite sure how to begin, but I will try. Six months have passed since my 29 year old son, Kevin, died of an accidental overdose of opiods. I miss him more and more as each day passes. The pain is so great there are times I feel I can’t go on. I have been severely depressed for many years and have been hospitalized several times, the longest was for 19 months. But this sadness is greater than any I could have imagined.
    I am not coping at all. I awaken each morning with an immediate sense of loss. How can my only son (I also have three daughters) be gone? He is such a part of me, having lived with me for 25 of his almost 30 years. He was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Anti-Social Personality as a young adult. He also had ADHD from a young age. Most of the family, including his father, gave up on Kev. My youngest daughter (10 years older than Kevin) stuck by him, and for that I am most grateful!
    Kevin tried to have a productive life. He tried very hard, but his “issues” got the best of him. He went to Job Corps where he got his GED (scoring in the national 99th percentile) and his high school diploma. He came home to North Carolina where I lived when my husband and I divorced after 33 years of marriage. After a few months of practically hibernating, he joined the Navy. He made it through Basic Training and Advanced Training. I was so proud of him! But being on a ship was too much for Kev so he came back to me.
    When I moved to Arizona, Kevin went to the Northwest where he was homeless for the next year, until he joined me. He got a job that lasted two years. He was dismissed for missing too many days. I think he felt like a failure. He was into drugs and that was his undoing.
    We moved to Tucson with his partner, Kris, where he enrolled in college and did very well his first semester. He just couldn’t cope with it and dropped out his second semester. Kev literally stayed in his room, except to use the bathroom (He’d take 2-3 showers a day) for the next six months. Kris would bring him food, cigarettes, and yes, drugs.
    We moved back to Sierra Vista. Kevin had caused a scene at my new apartment and was kicked off the property. He tried rehab in New Orleans but after two weeks he left saying all the residents talked about was going back to drugs when they got out. Kev had no place to go so he hid in my room for the next eight months! When he was discovered he had no place to go. Luckily he was accepted to a wonderful shelter. I visited with him every morning for at least two hours, until the library opened. I would bring him his breakfast. Every afternoon I met with him before he went back to the shelter. I loved being with him. We talked about everything, from books to, well, just everything. He was so bright!
    That was his routine until May 24, 2015 when they could not wake him up. I love him and miss him so much. If only I could give him one more hug. I am so sad…