Tom's Blog

10 Tips for Living WITH the Holidays this Year when someone you love has died

Posted by Tom Zuba on December 11, 2012 9 Comments

1. You will survive.  Remind yourself that you will survive. You will.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will come and they will go and it will be December 26th ... that day after Christmas.  Would you like to do more than just survive, however?  If so, keep reading...

2. Create peace.  Take some time to think about what will bring you the most peace this holiday season.  

        a.  Keeping all of your Holiday traditions in tact? 

        b.  Tweaking some traditions a bit and adding new ones? 

        c.  Throwing out all the old traditions and starting new ones?

        d.   Flying to a warm, tropical place and completely skipping the holidays this year?  It's               okay if you do that you know.  You have my permission!

3. Say Their Name.  Don’t expect anyone to mention the name of the person you love who died.  Believe it or not, that’s your job.  People will look to you to determine whether or not it’s safe to talk about the person that died.  Here are a few ways to include your loved one:

        a. Serve/bring your loved one’s favorite dish to the holiday get-together – talk                       about it!  Even if your beloved loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches best.                         BRING THOSE.

        b. Bring a favorite picture – pass it around. Work it into the centerpiece.

        c. If you have photos of your beloved with every person who will be seated at your                 holiday table, use these photos as place cards.

        d. Bring a favorite memento – a book, a poem, a watch, a piece of jewelry, a toy –                     and share it with guests after dinner. 

        e. Have your loved one’s favorite music playing in the background.

        f.  Be sure to include the names of all your family members who have died as you                     gather to pray.  Invite all at the table to include the name(s) of their loved
             one(s) who has/have died.

4. Plan a special evening for close family and friends when you REMEMBER. Ask everyone to bring a favorite photo and write down a special memory. Set time aside to sit in a circle and share the photos and stories.

5.  Give yourself permission to cry.  When someone you love dies, tears are normal, natural, healthy, and healing.  It's okay to cry.  Tears are a concrete, tangible sign that you are healing.  Tears are sacred. When/if you're able to cry, let the voice inside you head say, "I am healing.  I am healing. I am healing."

6.  Smile.  It’s okay to smile or even laugh.  You’re not being disloyal by enjoying yourself. 

7. It’s also okay to stay in bed, all day, if you like.  You will get out when you are ready and able. 

8. Buy yourself a gift. Wrap it. Write a note – to you – from the person you love that died.  If you're beloved were alive this Holiday Season, what would he/she want you to have as a gift?  It's okay to buy that special something for yourself.

9. Buy someone less fortunate than you a gift. Give it in memory of your loved one.  This is a wonderful way to spread the love. 

10. Light a candle. Hold on to hope.

Additional resources, click ~

1.  How to help a friend or family member

2.  A Simple Candle Lighting Ceremony

My book Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Do Grief is available in paperback and as an eBook at amazon. You can find it by clicking here:  Tom's book    

If my NEW WAY of "doing grief" resonates with you, I'd love to work with you one-on-one. If you are in the Rockford, Illinois area we can do that in person, otherwise, I am having great success working with people all over the country via Skype or FaceTime. Email me at if you would like to take the next step on your grief journey and we can schedule a session.


Comments (9 Comments)

8 is screwed up. I’m supposed to write a note to myself from my dead relative? What the…? How in the world is that supposed to help?

Posted by Lors on December 21, 2015

Tom, I’m reading your book and it is a great gift, but unless I’ve missed it so far I have not found how you answer the question: are my tears grief or just self pity? My friends do a great job of keeping in touch but I so want my kids to initiate the call of “how ya doin’, Mom” but I don’t want it to be obligatory, just genuine.

Posted by Ruth on December 20, 2014

Thank you for saying that to mention my loved one’s name is ‘my job’. I was always feeling so sad when no one mentioned my late husband when we get together but now, thanks to your words, I am free from this disappointment and will speak of my husband in the company of his friends and not hold it against them for not speaking of him first. It is these little light bulb moments that are making the difference for me as I travel this grief journey and learn to live again without my husband by my side. Thank you

Posted by Barbara Wallace on December 12, 2014

I can’t tell you enough how awesome these tips have been for me and my daughter! After losing my Mom and Dad, and my Brother just 3 months ago, I thought I couldn’t survive the holidays! Now I know better and am doing better. Now, I can teach my daughter this new way of doing grief. Thank You for helping me change my perspective :)

Posted by Renatta Keith on December 10, 2013

wonderful tips, I also enjoyed the thought of the day comment relating to loss. At this time of year it can be a real challenge for people who have lost a loved one through death or a marriage break up, even the loss of self becomes a grievance. therefore, its important to share warmth and courage and reach out to those who need it most.

Posted by lisa on November 23, 2013

Mom passed in June. She was the rock, the glue to the family after Dad passed 7 yrs ago. Since then I have discovered that my siblings now seem to be only for themselves. To honor my folks, I will continue their tradition of gifting to charity for Christmas. I don’t expect other members of the family to include or think about me this year. I will search for my own way to celebrate Christmas alone, count my blessings, and maybe put up a display of the handmade decorations that Mom & I shared doing from the 60’s. I’ll try to find those memories and hold them close on Christmas Day.

Posted by Eve Cooper on December 17, 2012
thank you Tom. you have been a inspiration, we just lost our son Zachariah 7 months now and our daughter Jessica almost 10 yrs at age of 14 zach was 25 yrs. they were 14 months. it hurts so bad , but thank you for the tips u given. i will keep saying their names around friends and family. people are right about saying our childrens name in front of us.So i will keep saying them. thanks again jennifer do u ever plan on coming to South bend indiana would like to hear u speak sometime and do u have books now thanks Merry Christmas.
Posted by jennifer sigafoose on December 13, 2012

Tom, I love your ten tips. You really covered everything, even staying in bed if you so choose. This year we’re doing something completely different. My fiance and I are going to a Chinese Restaurant for an early dinner and then we’re watching old movies all evening. My daughter won’t speak to me or let me see my grandchildren so for the last two years it’s just been me. But that’s a long story. Suffice it to say I’m not going to sit at home alone and cry this year. I’m going to enjoy Christmas. I deserve it. Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday.

Posted by Mary Ann deGorgue on December 12, 2012

Tom,when I read your story I couldn’t believe it so heart breaking.i also felt hope.hope for myself I too have lost a child from cancer.i didn’t ever think i would even get this far as its been 4 years now.Grief is a powerful thing it robs you of the person you once were.i so want to read more of your writings and understand how to better have inspired me.

Posted by Christi piniewski on December 11, 2012

Post Comment