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

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four 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 healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, 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 The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her 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 grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit

More Articles Written by Harriet