Dealing with the holidays after loss

Posted on: December 18, 2017

Submitted by the Canadian Cancer Society Perth and Area Office

Christmastime. It’s a season that usually comes with good cheer and celebration, but when you’ve lost a family member or friend to cancer — and it’s the first Christmas without them — you ain’t feeling the cheer.

To help you get through this holiday, we’ve chatted with some Perth and Lanark community members who have lost loved ones to cancer. They’re opening up about their first Christmas without their loved one and give some insight about how to cope with the loss during this time. First up: Cathy James, of the Canadian Cancer Society Perth and Area Office, who shares her experience after losing her dad in August 2015.
“Oh, that first Christmas is raw. But you know what I learned as we got to the actual Christmas Day? That the lead up to Christmas is the worst part. It’s the anticipation of not having him there that day that makes it so hard. Or, when you’re involved in pre-Christmas traditions and events when you know just how much he’d love to be there for it.

Just this week, our son’s kindergarten Christmas concert took place at school. I actually teared up during it, thinking about how much he’d love to witness all the insanity that comes with these cute concerts. Those waves of sadness hit at weird moments, and it’s okay to not fight the emotions.

With that, we have created new traditions since his passing. In the first year, we got together with another family and rented the community ice pad on Christmas Eve. We just skate around, re-connect and sip on hot chocolate. The kids love it and the adults may like it even more. I know my dad would be proud to see us coming together.

My advice? Christmas day may not be as bad as it could be. Yet, accept and understand that the anticipation of the day without that person is the hardest part.”

Laura Mackler, who lost her dad to cancer in December 2011, shares her insight on dealing with the first Christmas. It was especially tough for her as he had recently passed:

“Our first Christmas after the loss of Dad was nine days after he passed. It was kind of a daze. I literally just went through the motions. We were mostly relieved that he wasn’t suffering anymore.

The next Christmas, my mom gave us all a framed photo of him that I know we all display in our homes and his photo was put into a ‘photo ornament’ that now hangs in the centre of our tree.

We are very quiet when it comes to pointing out that Dad isn’t there (for instance, there’s no big speech made about how he’s gone), but we do tell stories that include him, very regularly.

Emotions? If you get hit by the wave of sadness, then let yourself have it. Give yourself that moment, feel it, then regroup and rejoin the rest of the family, at least that’s how I deal).

Doing something differently can also help…not that we’ve done a ton of that…but I think some new traditions entered in can be worth doing.

One Christmas we also watched some family videos with Dad in them. We only did this after a few years had passed, so there were more smiles than tears. I think we all think it’s important to keep his stories and memories alive — especially with the grandchildren.”

Lastly, Amanda Hutchings gives us her perspective on losing her mom to cancer last year. Hutchings, who is a mom to two young girls, shares her experience and how she tries to bring those memories and make them her own traditions.

“My mom was a huge fan of Christmas and always decorated her home to the max. She enjoyed every aspect from baking, decorating, gift giving and the overall joy of the season.

After she passed away, there was a huge hole when it came to the holidays. I struggled a lot, and still do with this time of year.

There are so many things we miss that my mom always did to make Christmas amazing. I decided that instead of missing those things, I would continue them. Now, by no means can I decorate and bake like she could, but I try.

It brings so much joy to my family. There are certainly tears shed while decorating and buying my girls new Christmas ornaments each year as my mom always did, but those tears do get swapped for smiles because I know she is watching and loving that her Christmas spirit is living on.

We also have a special place for a beautiful picture of my mom that we keep in our house and we light candles for both my mom and my dad on Christmas Eve. There always feels like something is missing around the holidays, and rightly so because there is. It’s a new normal now but feeling my parents in my heart at Christmas helps get me through.”

Are you struggling with the holidays as it’s the first (or even the 15th) year without your loved one? The Canadian Cancer Society provides information on coping with loss after a loved one passes from cancer. Learn more at and look under “support and services.”