Coping With the First Christmas Without Dad

Published September 1, 2020
Mother and daughter hugging

After the loss of your father, the holidays may bring up a mix of intense emotions that may feel difficult to cope with. While the first Christmas without dad can seem daunting, there are ways you can take care of yourself while preparing for the upcoming holiday.

First Christmas Without Dad

After the loss of a loved one, you may not be feeling the Christmas spirit, and that's okay. Holidays often accompany the pressure to be joyful, happy, and thankful, when in reality, you may not be feeling any of those.

How Do You Get Through the First Christmas After a Death?

The first Christmas may be incredibly challenging to deal with. You may feel flooded with holiday-related memories that feel overwhelming and possibly painful to think about. It's important to be patient with yourself and give yourself grace as Christmas nears. You may not want to celebrate, you may need to adjust your plans, and Christmas may not feel the same, especially this time around. As the holidays near:

  • Surround yourself with people who love and support you who won't expect you to act cheery.
  • Take time to process your loss of what Christmas was like with your father.
  • Allow yourself to grieve the loss of what this holiday meant to you when your father was here.
  • Think about what you'd like the upcoming Christmas to look like and imagine how you'll feel during the day and evening.
  • Give yourself permission not to do Christmas exactly like you have in the past.
  • Reach out to a counselor if you want some extra help processing your emotional experience.

Take as much pressure off of yourself as possible, reach out for help when needed, and give yourself time to process your emotions fully. Make sure your expectations are realistic, and you are truly putting your wellbeing first.

Tips for Helping Your Children

If your children have lost their grandfather:

  • Help them process their emotions and validate their feelings.
  • Discuss with them how this Christmas may feel different for them.
  • Come up with a sweet way you and your children can honor your father during Christmas time.
  • Offer them healthy ways to express and release their emotions if they are struggling with this particular holiday.
  • Do not lean on your child or children for support. Even if you feel completely emotionally depleted, it's not appropriate to ask your children to take care of you.
  • Help them understand how loss can resurface during memory heavy moments such as Christmas and other holidays.
  • Allow them some flexibility in terms of what they are and aren't comfortable with for Christmas-related festivities.
Sad little girl at christmas

Tips for Supporting Your Partner

If your partner has lost their father:

  • Be a solid, consistent support system for them and know that intense feelings may resurface, even if the loss happened a bit ago.
  • Ask them what they need in terms of space.
  • Request to help out with tasks that your partner typically does around Christmas time if they are comfortable with you taking over or helping out.
  • Do something special for them that you know they'll like.

Even if you don't know what to say to comfort your partner, ask how they're doing, how you can help, and be there for them by being present and attending to their needs.

How to Celebrate Christmas After Losing a Loved One

Know that how you decide to celebrate Christmas will be unique to your needs at this time. Depending on what feels best to you:

  • You may decide to celebrate how you normally would if you feel up for it.
  • You may opt to do a smaller gathering.
  • You may choose to not celebrate at all this year or at a different point during the year.
  • You may decide to just do a mini celebration with loved ones.
  • You may celebrate by having a very mellow evening with your immediate family and/or friends.

New Holiday Traditions After Death of a Parent

Holiday traditions may be filled with the memory of your father. Honoring your dad with new memories can be a sweet way to hold him close to your heart during Christmas time. You may:

  • Light a special candle for him when the holiday festivities begin.
  • Share favorite memories of him while you and your family are together.
  • Make his favorite dish or dessert to serve.
  • Watch his favorite movie after dinner.

What Do You Say to Someone Who Lost Their Dad Suddenly?

If someone has lost their father suddenly, it can feel difficult to know what to say around Christmas time. You can consider:

  • I am so sorry to hear about your recent loss. I know how special Christmas time with (insert deceased individual's name) was to you. I'd love to help out in any way you need. I'd love to watch your kids so you can have some time to yourself if you'd like.
  • I love you so much and am here for you. If you'd like, I'd love to have you over for Christmas so you have the option of not hosting this year.
  • I know how special the holiday season was for you and your dad. I am here for you and love you so much. I'd love to drop off something for you later if you're comfortable with me doing so.

What Do You Say to Someone Who Lost a Parent During the Holidays?

If your friend or family member has lost a parent during the holidays, it can help them feel supported and loved to connect with others. Whether you reach out with a sympathy card, text, or meet in person, letting them know you care, especially during the first holiday without their parent, can make a huge difference for them in this difficult moment.

First Christmas After a Death

The loss of your father can completely rock your entire world and leave the holidays feeling a bit off. Check in with yourself often, prioritize your self-care, and surround yourself with supportive friends and/or family members during this time.

Coping With the First Christmas Without Dad