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Holidays can be very difficult for families and friends who have lost a loved one to murder.  Here are some suggestions that you might find helpful in dealing with this time of year.  Some things that work for others might not work for you so do what you are comfortable with, and let me know if you have suggestions that are not included here.

You are experiencing not only the loss of your loved one, but the loss of the life you shared with them.  Holidays bring about a sharp reminder of what you have lost.  You are grieving also for the way these events are forever altered.  

It is not wrong for you to feel angry, sad, or overwhelmed by impending holidays.  Because you are not able to control these changes, you are bound to have feelings that conflict with what you used to feel during holidays.  If others around you are not feeling the same, you may feel further alienated.  What used to make you happy and joyous may now make you feel sad and angry.

If your loss is recent, you must learn to be flexible with yourself.  You will be experiencing many things that you have no roadmap for and you will just have to feel your way through it and learn to face each moment as it comes.


  • DO take the time to plan ahead. The tendency to put off even thinking about the holidays is strong among Murder Victim Survivors (MVS), yet you are most likely to experience problems if you don't think about the challenges that you will be facing during this time.
  • DO sit down with family members and discuss what each member wants to do for the holidays.  Expect that there may be some conflicts and be prepared to talk it out.
  • DO remember to let others know.  Your friends and other relatives will honor your decisions, but they need to know what they are.
  • DON'T do things that you are uncomfortable with just because you think it is expected of you.  Consider and suggest compromises.  But.....
  • DON'T forget that others are hurting too.  Be particularly mindful of the children in your family.
  • DO plan ahead and prioritize. Do things that are very important or especially significant to you - leave the rest for later.
  • DO accept and even ask for help.  Your family and friends are probably anxious to find ways to ease your burdens - let them know how they can assist with shopping, cooking, cleaning and decorating.
  • DO expect to have pain...it is unavoidable.  When those moments come, don't run from them; just let them happen and then move on.
  • DON'T be afraid to change traditions that make you sad, but DO try to keep some.
  • DO buy a small gift for your loved one - then give it to someone who might otherwise be without a gift.
  • DO consider setting a place at the holiday table for your loved one - perhaps leave a single flower on their plate.
  • DON'T get tangled up in semantics - it is the natural inclination for people to say "Happy birthday - Happy New Year - Merry Christmas - Happy Hanukkah".  Don't be hurt by this.
  • DO remember that it is "okay" if you choose to be alone - no one else knows what is best for you.
  • DO consider creating new traditions - they may become as special as old traditions in time.
  • DON'T succumb to the urge to "spend away your grief."  It won't help and it will only cause financial problems.
  • DO seek out others who may be experiencing similar problems - you may help them as you help yourself.
  • DO try shopping online.  You will avoid over-exposure to holiday decorations, songs, etc.  Or try doing your shopping for the holidays in the summer.
  • DON'T overwhelm yourself as you try to get in a holiday mood.  In the earliest years after a loss, it may be better to re-introduce participation slowly. Understand that the holidays will not be the same, ever.
  • DO take good care of yourself.  Remember to eat properly, take vitamins, get as much sleep as possible, etc.  Take naps or just rest your eyes and your body for a few minutes.  Grief puts your mind and body into overdrive - it is a natural healing process for the worst type of injury to your heart and mind but it will wear you out.
  • DO consider hanging a Christmas stocking for your loved one, and ask family members to write a special memory of your loved one and put it in the stocking.  You could read them together on Christmas Day or New Year's Day, or choose never to read them at all.
  • DON'T think of tears as a bad thing.  Those tears are helping you to heal.
  • DO share your feelings with your loved ones.  If you are not comfortable with something, tell your family why you feel that way.
  • DO make sure you update others when your needs and feelings change or adjust.  If you become uncomfortable about something that you thought you would be okay with, it is acceptable to change plans.  Likewise, if you find that you can enjoy an activity that you had previously told your family you would not want to do, make sure they know this as well.
  • DO consider placing some decoration at the gravesite.  A small wreath or decorated tree might be appropriate.
  • DON'T feel guilty if you enjoy yourself!  Your loved one would not want you to forever grieve, pushing all joy from your life.  If you find yourself laughing, or enjoying holiday preparations, you are not insulting your loved one's memory, rather uplifting it.
  • DO accept invitations to social events, while telling the host/hostess that you may feel compelled to cancel at the last minute or to leave early.  Try to participate socially if you feel ready but understand that you may find unexpected limitations.
  • DO consider going to Christmas services at your church; you might try a different service time from normal or even a different church.
  • DO make a donation in your loved one's memory.
  • DO seek out a support group in your area, or participate in our online support group.  It can be very helpful to share your feelings with others who understand.
  • DO write a letter to your loved one, sharing your feelings and memories.  This can be very cathartic.
  • DO remember that January may possibly bring on more depression than the holidays did.  After the holidays are over, the dreary coldness of January may leave you with even more tendency to dwell on things that make you sad.  Knowing this is the best way to avoid it.

A book to help children deal with grief and loss.

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