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Celebrating Holidays and Birthdays after a Tragic Death

Alternative Rituals

Written by Clara Hinton  

Rituals are an important part of most families. Many traditions have been handed down through generations, and have become almost what we would term a sacred part of family life.

When a child dies, there is more than just a momentary break in the routine of daily living. There is an overwhelming sadness over this loss of precious life. Along with the more common adjustments that must be made, there are also changes that must be made in holiday rituals in order to acknowledge the death of the child. The former traditions would never be the same following the death of a child, and they would only create great emptiness in the family.

Change is always difficult for everyone. We seem to fight just the idea of change. Change is particularly difficult when it involves rituals that have been part of a tradition for years and years. To try to keep things the same, however, when a child has died is almost impossible. The more we try to duplicate traditions that were fun and so central to the family, the sadder everyone will become. Traditions are reminders of times past.

The solution to bringing happiness once again to family holidays is to create alternative rituals for those special days following the loss of a child. The most difficult holidays, of course, will be all of the first ones following the death of a child. A certain sense of dread comes over the parents, and the rest of the family is left wondering what to do.

Creating alternative holiday rituals can be a healing step in and of itself. By bringing the family together and discussing alternatives, it allows grief over the loss of the child to surface. This time of coming together also gives a family a bit of control in an out-of-control situation. The death of a child is so hard on everyone!

If you have always had the same menu served at a holiday, try changing some of the food. For Thanksgiving, instead of roast turkey, make baked ham your new main course. A simple change just in the food can prompt a great healing for everyone present at holiday gatherings.

Instead of exchanging Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, do it on Christmas day, and include a holiday brunch. If you traditionally sing Christmas carols, make a circle around the tree, and have each one read a favorite poem instead. Be creative as you think of alternative rituals.

If you have always hosted a New Year’s Eve party, book a room at a lodge, and spend the night away. Instead of blowing party horns at the striking of the New Year, have a balloon release, and do it in memory of your child who has died. What a healing tradition this could be!

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death of your child! Everything is different since your child has died, including holiday rituals. By finding alternative ways to celebrate fun events together as a family, you acknowledge the death of your child. By starting a new ritual, you have taken another step forward on the road to healing!


Mimi Rothschild

Mimi Rothschild is the Founder and CEO of the Global Grief Institute which provides Certification training programs forGrief Coach, Trauma Coach, End of Life Coach, and Children's Grief Coach. She is a survivor who has buried 3 of her children and her husband of 33 years. She is available for speaking engagements and comments to the press on any issue surrounding thriving after catastrophic loss. MEDIA INQUIRIES:

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