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Honoring Loved Ones During the Holidays

By Melina Papadopoulos

We often associate the holiday season with family, and for good reason. It’s the one time of the year when everyone can come together, rekindle old conversations and share a meal and memories.

Because the holiday season is so intertwined with family togetherness, it can be difficult to enjoy the bright-colored festivities when someone you loved is no longer around to enjoy them with you. This is true whether they died recently or many years ago. You see that empty place mat at the dinner table, and you sense their absence and presence all at once.

The good news is that you can embrace that presence and revel in their memory, although challenging it may be. Here are some tips to help you remember your loved one as you celebrate the holidays.

1. Celebrate with Your Loved One’s Favorite Things

Maybe it’s a sweet perfume that always lingered in the room long after they left. Maybe it’s a song that they couldn’t help singing along with every time they heard it on the radio. Maybe it’s simply their favorite food, flower or animal.

Whatever the case, these wonderful things are tangible pieces of the world that brought your loved one joy. You can share this joy by integrating some of them into your next family celebration.

For example, if your loved one really loved Italian food, you might consider creating a holiday menu that features some of their favorite dishes. You might even consider recreating some of their favorite recipes. You could put together a cookbook that houses all of those prized recipes in one place. That way, your family can return to it again and again. You can even add stories and pictures to make your cookbook come to life.

If you aren’t up for an elaborately themed celebration, that is okay, too. As another example, my grandmother always loved Elvis. I remember the Elvis memorabilia that decorated her house—a calendar in the kitchen, a throw blanket on sofa, one portrait of the King grinning in the morning light of her bedroom. One Christmas, my cousin played a few Elvis songs on her phone in my grandmother’s memory. I don’t even remember what songs she had chosen. What I do remember is that distinct voice singing in the background, reviving memories of sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table as she offered me fresh red grapes and pretzels.

2. Reminisce Over Photos

Sometimes, all it takes is one photo taken on a sunny Saturday afternoon to make so many pleasant memories flood back. Consider sharing some favorite photos of your loved one and welcoming the entire family to bring their own. You can spend hours passing around pictures and sharing the stories attached to each one. You could even create a photo book that not only preserves these special moments but also documents your loved one’s life in some way.

3. Create Artwork

Sometimes the people we love the most can move us to create wonderful things. Art is also an excellent outlet for expressing your feelings, be that happiness, anger or grief. You can sketch your loved one’s favorite rosebush or paint the bird that reminds you of them most. You can invite the whole family to enjoy a cathartic art session and display your work around the house during your next celebration.

If painting and drawing aren’t your thing, there are many other media to try. Some even allow you to integrate your loved one more directly. For example, you and your family can make heirloom ornaments to hang on the tree. Then you can revisit your artwork and fond memories every year.

4. Take Turns Telling Stories

If you just don’t consider yourself a family of visual artists, there are other creative ways to honor your loved one during the holidays. One method that has endured for centuries: storytelling.

You can take turns as a family sharing favorite memories of your loved one. To get people thinking, you could provide prompts like “favorite movie we watched together” or “favorite meal we shared.”

If you’d like to preserve your stories beyond the living room, consider writing them down. Who knows?  As you write, you might peel back layers of the story that you had overlooked before. I often joke that I have written the same poem in honor of my grandmother at least five times now, just in different forms. That’s because I’m always finding new ways to reenter old memories.

If you need help brainstorming what to write, we have compiled a list of writing prompts to get you started. Again, you can encourage the entire family to participate and even hold an “open mic” session during your holiday celebration so that everyone can share their story, poem or other writing piece.

5. Make an Online Memorial

Maybe this holiday season, you want to create something that you know will last, something that can’t be misplaced in a shuffle of paper. That’s where online memorials can come into play. There are many free platforms that allow you to create memorials for your loved one. Ancestry’s We Remember is one example. Share the memorial with the entire family so that they can add their own favorite photos and memories.

6. Allow Yourself to Grieve AND Celebrate

It’s worth saying again: the holidays can be hard when you miss someone dearly. It’s okay to acknowledge that they are hard, both in private and as a family. It’s okay to cry together and exchange hugs. What’s important is that you do what feels right for you. Share stories, both the impeccably detailed and the sparsely remembered. Pass around photos. Laugh about the good times and dance to favorite songs. Most important of all, keep your loved one’s memory alive.

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