December 7, 2018

Find joy in the past despite pain in the present by making lost loved ones a part of holiday traditions.


I’m convinced I will never get used to celebrating milestones and holidays without my mother, but I know I can make it easier by including her legacy in our plans.

My children lost both my mom and my husband’s mom in the early years of their lives. I never imagined they would lose their grandmothers so soon. I always envisioned our moms at our kids’ high-school graduations and weddings. But that is not our story. Our story includes two women gone before their grandchildren could truly know how amazing they were. And it’s my job to tell their story, for years after they left us.

During the the holiday season — a favorite for my mom and mother-in-law — I am determined to carry on the legacies of our lost loved ones. I am committed to involving their memories in our festivities. Because my children need to feel their presence, even in their absence. My children need to be reminded because their young minds can so easily forget.

Have you lost a loved one? Do you dread the holidays without them? For the sake of their honor and the memory of our children, here are five ways to carry on the legacy of our lost loved ones this holiday season:

1. Talk about them.

Share memories of holidays past. Ask older loved ones to tell stories of their childhood or early years of marriage. Talk about gifts given and received. Try to remember funny moments and laugh together. The best way we can keep the legacies of our loved ones alive is to bring them into our present through conversation surrounding their lives.

2. Make their favorite recipes.

As hard as it was, the first December without my mom we we gathered together and made her Christmas cookies. We did an awful job without her but we felt her near as we tried to carry on her Christmas baking tradition. At Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner, we make our moms’ favorite dishes and wish they were here to add in that extra pinch of love that makes the food taste so much sweeter.

3. Carry on their traditions.

Baking, gift-giving, dinner menus, carol singing — whatever family memories our lost loved ones enjoyed, we need to continue. It’s so easy to let traditions slip away without certain family members but we should keep up with the things they loved. With my husband’s family rooted in England, my mother-in-law loved to give out Christmas crackers on Christmas Eve. We all enjoyed the tradition but could easily do without it. But in the years since she has been gone, we have continued to find those little packages on our dinner plates, and as we pop them open we think of her. If we want our children to carry the legacies of our lost loved ones into their own lives for years to come, we need to teach them the value of tradition.

4. Give gifts in their honor.

Especially for our children. We can give gifts that we know our lost loved one would have given. We can talk about her as we present those gifts. “Gigi would have loved to give you this toy horse for Christmas. She would be so proud of how you are learning to ride.” Knowing the pain of losing my mom will be sharp during the holidays, we also find gifts to give my dad that will honor her and her legacy. We can keep our loved ones close throughout the gift-giving holidays by honoring them in our exchange.

5. Be thankful for the memories they left behind.

Holidays tend to open the wounds of loved ones lost. It can be easy to stuff wonderful memories to save ourselves the pain of directly dealing with the fact that person is not with us this year. But memories keep those we’ve lost alive. And a heart of thanks brings honor to the life they lived. Our children need to see us finding joy in the past despite the pain of the present. Our children need to hear us sharing memories with thanksgiving that our loved one graced our life as long as they did.

This article was written by Jessica Wolstenholm. She lives in Nolensville, Tennessee, with her husband, Dave, and two children.