Christmas Grief: Tips for Enduring After a Child’s Death

Anniversaries, birthdays, special memories and holidays intensify the pain after the death of a child. And although we may have discovered daily tools to help guide our everyday grief, December seems to require special tips and ideas to navigate the days leading up to the holiday dates.

The following are some helpful ideas I have compiled over the years from my own history and from those shared by other bereaved parents. These ideas seem to follow the categories of Self Care, Traditions and Honoring Your Child.

Self Care

• Accept support

• Allow/ask others to help with Christmas tasks (card writing, shopping, baking, decorating, child caring for certain activities or short term to care for self)

• Feel your feelings (which may mean crying or leaving the room or activity)

• Choose whether to participate in activities or not

• Try one new activity for the holiday season: do something for someone else, adopt a family to sponsor for Christmas giving, attend a new church, volunteer for the sick, elderly, hospital, soup kitchen, humane society

• Join or connect with a bereavement support group

• Buy yourself a special gift to open on a particularly difficult day

• Allow yourself grief time (to cry, feel your feelings, watch a sad movie, take a walk)

• Avoid excess food, drink, activities, spending

Traditions: Choose to Change, Create, or Eliminate

• Choose whether you want to decorate at all, continue as in the past or change some or create new traditions

• Choose whether to follow established traditions or create new ones when it comes to food. Will you bake cookies, candies, treats or not? Will you continue the serving the traditional menu or change it? Will you continue the same seating pattern or try buffet style or TV trays? Will you change the dinner hosting placement as in a different relative’s home or will you eat at a restaurant? Will you leave town altogether or celebrate in a different location?

• Continue to hang the deceased child’s stocking in which family members place written memories of the loved one to remain in the stocking year after year (to be read at a time of the family’s choosing)

• Plan an activity your deceased child loved to do (sports game, pizza night, movie night, skating, baking cookies)

• Buy presents for disadvantaged children/families in the deceased child’s name

• Decorate the child’s headstone at the cemetery (with cards, Christmas trees, lights, stuffed animals)

• Decorate someone else’s headstone at the cemetery

• Create a memorial to your child in your home, school, office. This could be their own small tree with collected ornaments or memorabilia.

• Set a place setting at the holiday table for the deceased child

• Have family members share a memory of the child at a time of their choosing with all family present

• Bake cookies/treats for a needy family, homeless shelter, fire department, non-profit agency

• Participate in community-based memorial services where you can hang ornaments in public places for your child

Honoring the Deceased Child:

• Sew blankets or make quilts representative of your child

• Make handmade ornaments for family, friends, neighbors as reminder of your child

• Including all family members, create a memory wreath, a memory box, or memory book using pictures, memorabilia, ornaments, etc

• Decorate outdoor memorial trees

• Plant an outdoor Christmas tree and decorate it yearly

• Light a candle or candles in a wreath each day or create a routine to light the candles to honor your child

• Donate a financial amount of what you may have spent on your child in their name to children’s fund, organization or foundation

• Buy a special yearly Christmas ornament and start a memorial tree for your child

• Give gifts with memories attached of your child: pictures of the child, a tree to plant, a recipe, music, art

• Order US Postal stamps with your child’s picture on them, (

• Pray. However this looks to you, it lifts you and your child.

Our lives are altered after the death of a child or loved one. Further, holidays will not be the same. They may intensify the pain causing overwhelming feelings as well as obstacles to the grief journey. One must expect sad days, good moments and difficult moments that will require gentleness, compassion, support and planning.

The pain of grief will remain with us, will fluctuate and will come and go at various times. But healing the wound of grief comes as the result of change; the acceptance and welcoming of the ongoing changes inside the self and the transformation of the pain into a new presence of who we become due to our identity of a new life purpose beyond our grief.

I hope you can plant some seeds of change for yourself during this holiday season.

Chris Mulligan 2011

Chris Mulligan

More Articles Written by Chris

Chris Mulligan received her BS in Psychology and MS in Clinical, Child, Youth, and Family Work from Western Oregon University. Twenty-five years of adoption/social work and mental health experience didn’t prepare Chris for the devastation after the death of her son, Zac, in 2000. The journey through grief changed her, her views of life, death and the afterlife forever. Since Zac’s death, she has documented over eight years of signs and communication with Zac, her spirit guide, Samuel and others on the other side. She lives in Newberg, Oregon, with her husband, Jim and their dogs, Chiquita and Joe. Chris can be reached at [email protected] or through her website, Chris appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss “Afterlife Agreements.” To hear Chris being interviewed on this show, click on the following link:


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  • shirley says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you for some great ideas. My situation is a bit different. I’ve searched this site, along with some others, trying to find ways to help my Mom with her grief. My sister, Sandra, was murdered in September 2009. Sandra was 58 when she died. My Mom was 80 years old when Sandra died. Mom suffered a stroke in 2004 and was forced to move into assisted living in 2008. The facility we found for her is wonderful. They pray with Mom, involve her in as many activities as they can. Mom’s short term memory and speech were greatly affected by her stroke. When Sandra died, my other two sisters and I decided to only tell Mom what she needed to know. We knew she would read some things in the newspaper so we more or less played it by ear. We told her Sandra was murdered. A few days later we were forced to tell her she died from stab wounds to the heart, since it was being reported in the newspaper. Of course, Mom took the news terribly. Through her tears the only thing she could say was ‘why, why’, why’. A few days after Sandra’s death when I was hugging Mom before I left, she said to me “it should have been me”. It’s sad. It’s hard to see Mom so sad. She doesn’t speak well and has a difficult time articulating her feelings. She often cries and when I ask her why she’s crying she will respond with ‘I don’t know.’ Between the three of us sisters, we see Mom at least 3 or 4 times a week. We take our grandchildren to visit as often as we can; they seem to brighten her up. My other two sisters aren’t comfortable mentioning Sandra around Mom. I mention her often. Mom will sometimes tell me she misses her. Other times I can get Mom to tell me stories about when we were little girls. I don’t know what else to do. I want to comfort my Mom. I want to take her pain away and I know I can’t erase it. Any ideas on what else we could do for her? This has been really tough for my sisters and I.
    Thank you,
    Shirley Wiles-Dickinson

  • Shirley,
    I am so sorry for mother’s loss, your sisters’ loss and the loss you are feeling due to your sister’s death. I am also sorry that you have to be dealing with so many levels of various issues at the same time while trying to find time for your own loss. Some of her conflicting issues make your planning quite complicated. Ordinarily we do have new responsibilities/roles as our parents age but your situation is definitely a bit different and I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you.

    You sound very caring and compassionate toward your mother, her needs and her issues. It sounds like you are fulfilling a need for her to be heard (you allowing her to cry) and mentioning your sister’s name to her. This IS comforting her.

    I would suggest making up a photo album for your Mom of her life which definitely includes all of her children, activities, pets, associations,homes, friends, whatever describes her life. You could cut out magazine pictures along with family photos but showcase her life and children. This could give her an outlet to discuss her feelings about Sandra, it would encourage the facility caregivers to allow your Mom to talk about her feelings, it can create wonderful sharing opportunities between you (and/or your sisters) and your Mom, it could be a therapeutic tool to address her speech and short term memory issues and (I know) it will be one of the best methods of creating positive memories of your time with your mother as time progresses. Beyond this, by having something tangible to hold and review from visit to visit, you will create opportunities to discover other helpful ideas or activities for your Mother based on her present reaction to the pictures or discussion. This can be a springboard for other ideas to help her.

    It sounds like you are doing many activities to help her already. Although we all wish we could help remove someone else’s pain, most people say that being present and listening are most helpful. Take care of Shirley too. Wishing you grace, Chris

  • shirley says:

    Thank you Chris. I love the idea of a photo album. I can put together an easy to handle album for Mom. We have all the old pictures Mom saved through out the years…I’m sure she would enjoy seeing all those old pictures again. In fact, it could be a fun activity for my sisters and I to do together. Mom may even want to help us.
    Thank you also for saying I’m compassionate and caring towards my Mom. Mom was one of those Mother’s that always put her family first. She gave so much of herself for all of us, loving her and caring for her seems only natural for all of us.
    Again, thank you for the idea. I’m excited to share it with my sisters.
    Bless you

  • Shirley,
    You are so welcome. I am glad that the idea resonated with you and I hope it is helpful for you and your sisters and all the healing of the relationships.I hope it brings you all some comfort in the coming year. Many new years blessings, Chris