My grandmother died right before Thanksgiving when I was 23. My mother, the family’s quintessential hostess, seemed paralyzed at the thought of cooking for Thanksgiving that year. After talking to my dad, I made a reservation for Thanksgiving dinner for just our immediate family at our favorite special occasion restaurant. My mother was furious. At first. I refused to take no for an answer and she reluctantly agreed to go. We dressed up, went out to dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed our Thanksgiving. We had champagne, dinner, and dessert. A new tradition was born and my mother, the reluctant participant, happily never cooked another Thanksgiving dinner. Dinner out became our new tradition. I think going out to dinner freed my mother from a tradition that she had grown tired of maintaining. 

I’ve lost the only two grandparents I knew and both my parents near the holidays. I’ve learned two things from my personal experience.

First, it’s important to still celebrate the holiday while finding a way to honor your lost loved one.

Second, it’s absolutely OK to change the way you’ve always celebrated if continuing those traditions will be difficult and emotional. 

Holiday traditions can be both very special and extremely draining. If a tradition no longer works for you, be bold enough to suggest a change. You may find that your family not only agrees but feels liberated by your suggestion.

Since losing my parents, I always feel a little blue as the holidays approach. I’ve come to expect to feel this way, despite also being thankful for my husband and my children and our own holiday traditions. I’ve learned to cut myself slack – to balance missing my past with enjoying my present. Simple things, like adding my parents’ special ornaments to our tree bring me happiness and make me feel that they are still part of our holidays. 

The holidays can be very difficult for those who have lost loved ones. If you are in that number, be gentle to yourself.




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