Home For The Holidays

Originally published November 2012.
Losing someone who is a central part of your heart and your family can impact every little corner of your life. We find ourselves embarking on a year of “firsts” as soon as they are gone. Those first holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries stare at us like ominous strangers. We wonder how we will ever make it through without them. If you have children, these “firsts” can be even harder to face.

How will you celebrate Christmas now that your loved one won’t be there to fill his or her role in your family tradition? What about birthdays? Is it still okay to say “happy” that day? Questions loom in your head, Do we keep our old traditions? Should we start new ones? How can we keep our loved ones’ spirit alive on this occasion? What do we do if we cry?

These are all very real questions that we all have to face at some point during  our grief journey. No one can answer them for us. We need to do whatever feels right to us and whatever is best for our family. Don’t allow people on the outside to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to or can’t do. Allow and encourage your children to be a part of this process.

My husband died in August, so Christmas was just 4 months away. Our family tradition had always been to cut down our own tree the day after Thanksgiving. We would then return home to decorate the tree while playing Christmas CD’s and enjoying hot chocolate and cookies. We would all wear Santa hats. It was a wonderful time together as a family.

That first year, I couldn’t bring myself to open the box of Christmas decorations. It was just too painful to think about the day we packed it together after what would become our last Christmas together. I discussed it with my kids, and we decided to do something a bit different. We also decided on keeping some things the same. We chose to buy a small tabletop tree already adorned with lights. Since my husband was an avid New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fan, we chose decorations with those logos for the tree. We all got new stockings as well which brought some excitement for the kids on what was a bittersweet day. Instead of our traditional Santa hats, we bought ones with the sports teams’ logos on them as well. As we erected our “Daddy Tree”, we put on our hats, drank hot chocolate, and played his favorite Christmas CD. We hung lights around the room. We laughed and we cried, but we were happy with our choices. We were able to gracefully blend some old and some new traditions together to help us get through such a painful “first”.

As for how we would spend the actual day of Christmas, we decided to do something we had never done before. We packed ourselves up and headed south to spend the holiday with my sister and her family. We had never left our house before for this particular holiday. Now that we were with my sister’s family, they made us a part of their Christmas traditions. That first Christmas without my husband was a huge emotional roller coaster. It was filled with laughter, love, and tears. I still maintained some of the traditions we had with our kids, but I embraced the new ones my sister brought. It was so nice to be with people who love us so much. That was one of our best decisions. That Christmas is one we will never forget.

The kids and I have decided that every year we will put up our “Daddy Tree” in a prominent room of our house. We will also have a real tree to put our presents under. This is what feels right to us, and we will keep doing it as long as it feels right (which will likely be forever.)  The second Christmas after my husband dies, I was finally ready to open up that box. It was nice to hang some of our family’s traditional ornaments on a real tree. It was nice to bask in some of the memories we all cherished.

So, as the Christmas season approaches, take time to discuss with your family the best way for you to celebrate and endure the holiday. Maybe you will choose to keep everything the same. Maybe you will choose to do everything different. Or perhaps, like us, you will find ways to graciously blend the two. Whatever you choose, I wish you and yours the best. Remember, it is okay to be happy and it is okay to be sad. Allow yourself to experience this holiday season in whatever ways help you on your grief journey.

Samantha Sage is a proud mom and wife, as well as a widow. She writes about her journey following the death of her first husband on her blog.

Photo credit.


  1. Catsissie said on December 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm ... #

    This is another year, it will be seven of them on the thirteenth. since Don left. No one here seems to want to speak of it, and since I don’t drive, I visit him on findagrave.com, where at least I can leave a remembrance that is personal, and a note. I don’t know if getting over it ever happens; getting through it is like walking through cotton candy, and it never stops being an ache, or even, on occasion, a terrible pain. It just is there, different. Maybe that’s me. But in a few years, I may actually learn to like Christmas, a little.

  2. Lisa said on December 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm ... #

    My husband died 11 yrs ago this coming January 21st.
    Like many, Christmas was his favorite holiday and he was the biggest kid always making it fun for everyone!
    The year he died, I too couldn’t bare to open the box of Christmas decorations. We got our tree and put on the lights but instead of ornaments we put up our favorite photos of him with us. The star was a photo taken of he and I on our very first Christmas together.

    The night he died, the kids (then 6, 8 and 10 yr olds) and I adopted a star in the sky…the brightest star in the constellation Orion (for Tom was our warrior) and thus became the tradition of gold and silver foil wrapped stars in their stockings… daddy stars. Christmas isn’t Christmas without them. We miss him today, as much as we did that first year. You NEVER get over it, but carry it more gently in the fabric of your being each passing year.

    Merry Christmas… hoping you are surrounded by those you love, including your own special angels.

  3. April said on March 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm ... #

    My fiance just passed away on Feb 4th. We have a four year old beautiful daughter. I am broken. I thought she would be okay b/c she is only four. I was wrong. She understands. I don’t know the right things to say to her, but I’m trying my best, and reading stories such as yours to help guide me. Christmas is one special time that we had our happiest memories. We had traditions, such as where to buy the tree and every year we took the same pictures. I still don’t know what I will do when Christmas comes, but after reading your story I know for sure we will have a Daddy tree.

  4. Amy said on December 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm ... #

    My sister was brutally murdered in Nov. 2012. Her favorite color was purple. I decided to put up a small 4′ tree gold tree (she was blonde) and decorate it with purple ornaments. Soon friends began sending me beautiful and meaningful ornaments in the mail to decorate my “Dana tree”. One even came from a friend in Germany- a purple “sister angel”. Some are store-bought, some hand made. Incredibly meaningful to me. The tree ended up staying in my kitchen all year… I will leave it until I am ready to take it down. Until then, it makes me happy, and I like to think of the soft white lights as “her light”.

  5. Patricia Avellaneda said on December 4, 2013 at 7:59 pm ... #

    Thank you for writing your story about christmas is my first christmas without my son he was only 21 years old. I miss him a lot it has been only 5 months after his passing, I am trying to make our lives as normal as possible. It gives me hope knowing that he is in a better and wonderful place and that keeps me going, to love my other 3 children, in their laughs and jokes I still find my beautiful son. Thank you very much God bless!

  6. Carol markley said on December 9, 2013 at 11:09 am ... #

    My husband David died in our arms on October 30 he had just turned 45 . My sons are 23 21 19 and 17 . We are still reeling with grief . This holiday season is really painful . He grew up as an orphan so he loved wrapping presents and I always bought him a church ornament . The other day I saw one he would like and I bought it. I don’t know how we can possibly put up tree and do Christmas. We are so sad

  7. Dawn said on December 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm ... #

    My husband died in March of this year leaving me and our then three year old daughter. His death was unexpected and he was too young to die. I miss him so much. Birthdays and anniversaries have been hard but Christmas feels too much to bear. How do you ever begin to live with the pain.

  8. antoinette smith said on December 23, 2014 at 9:11 pm ... #

    my mom just past away on dec 04 2014 and vey hard for me and my silbing exspecially me because she was with me on hospice my mom was 63 yrs she had overian can and it spread fast it very hard to deal with

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