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Expert Advice

Help during the holidays: honor lost loved ones

For people who are grieving, the holidays can include painful reminders of loss. But this season also brings opportunities to honor lost loved ones.

There are things you and your grieving friend can do together to pay tribute to their loved one—to celebrate them, honor them, and bring others together in a fond moment of remembrance. It can be as simple as everyone raising a glass around a table or spending an evening watching family videos.

Dr. Joe Kasper, a physician and expert in the field of positive psychology and post-traumatic growth, says that “paying tribute sets time aside to reflect on the person's life.”

If your friend isn’t up for paying tribute to their loved one—it might still be too painful—you can do it on your own. That’s especially true if you had a relationship with their loved one, too. One powerful way to pay tribute is to write a letter of gratitude. “Thank the person who passed away for all the good things they did and express how they changed your life for the better,” Dr. Kasper suggests. “If you’re comfortable, read it aloud to the deceased’s family or friends, or give it to them to read on their own.”

Beyond paying tribute, another way to honor a lost one is by contributing to their “co-destiny.” Dr. Kasper developed the idea of co-destiny after the loss of his son. It’s built around the notion that if we perform altruistic actions in someone’s name, we can help add to their legacy, so it continues to grow. And it isn’t just a beautiful way to remember someone who’s gone. It’s also healing for those left behind. “In this way,” Dr. Kasper says, “we give meaning to suffering and promote post-traumatic growth within ourselves.”

There are many ways to remember or extend the positive impact of a lost loved one’s life beyond their death, especially during the holidays. Here are some ideas:

Pay tribute

  • Light a candle in their memory at special holiday meals.
  • Take flowers to their grave site, or another place where family and friends go to remember them.
  • Make a digital photo album and share it with people who loved them.
  • Host a holiday dinner party and invite those who knew them best.
  • Make and enjoy their favorite holiday meal—if you can, follow their handwritten recipes.
  • Buy their favorite flowers for the holiday centerpiece.
  • Ask friends to share memories of them on their social media pages.
  • Gather loved ones to share favorite stories or holiday memories about them.
  • Release balloons or paper lanterns at a gathering of their friends.
  • Sing their favorite holiday songs.
  • Write a holiday card to them.
  • Go to an event that they would have enjoyed, like a holiday concert, play, or sporting event.
  • Frame their favorite quote or poem.
  • Plant a tree in their name.
  • Make a small memory garden in the yard.

Create co-destiny

  • Organize a fundraising drive or contribute to their favorite charity in their memory.
  • Volunteer for an organization they supported.
  • Finish a project they were working on.
  • If they loved a local park, school, theater, sports venue, etc., consider supporting its mission—pick up litter, donate supplies, or buy tickets for kids in the community.
  • Get involved in organizations that tackle issues relevant to their life (e.g., cancer research, mental health organizations).
  • Write an inscription honoring their memory in their favorite book, then donate it to a library.