Grief During the Holidays: Finding Hope

December 24, 2015


by Lisa De Sieno 
Director of Bereavement Services

The holiday season can be one of the most difficult times of the year when you have experienced the death of someone you love. Holidays — a time of family togetherness, traditions, joy and thankfulness — can suddenly bring sadness, loss and a feeling of emptiness. It’s a time when your senses are confronted with sights, sounds and smells that can trigger memories of the past, resulting in a renewed sense of personal grief.

Grief can make you feel as though you are all turned around, like you are going in circles and are out of balance. Understanding how you and other family members respond to grief can bring back a sense of balance, which can help you explore ways to embrace loving memories and recognize our needs during this difficult time.

It’s also important to remember that adults are not the only family members who grieve. Children often are the forgotten mourners. Unlike adults, they can move in and out of their grief quickly, which is normal. Children can benefit from having opportunities to express how they feel along with reassurance and loving support. Including children in sharing memories and activities with family and friends can be an important part of the healing process.

During this holiday season, keep these tips in mind:

  • Plan ahead. Consider where the challenges may come so you can make a plan that is comfortable for you. Tell family members and friends of your needs ahead of time so they understand that things may be different this year
  • It’s OK to make changes. Alterations in family traditions don’t need to become new traditions. Do what feels right for this year.
  • Ask for help. Accept offers for assistance with shopping, decorating, cooking, etc.
  • Share memories with your family and friends. Your loved one is missed, but not forgotten. Memories can bring both laughter and tears — both are OK.
  • Light a special holiday candle in honor of your loved one as a symbol that love lives on.
  • Make keepsake ornaments with family and friends as a tribute to your loved one.

Keepsake ornaments

This easy-to-make ornament, with its warm cinnamon fragrance, is something that can be hung on your Christmas tree or around the house. It also is a wonderful gift that can be given to others who have been touched by your loved one. Be creative. Use different cookie cutters to create shapes that bring a smile and fond memories to mind. Use paint, markers or other items to decorate the ornament, or write your loved one’s name on it. It’s meant to be a keepsake that’s personal to you.

Cinnamon Dough Ornament

Supplies needed

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup of very warm water
  • Bowl
  • Plastic food wrap
  • Rolling pin
  • Wax paper
  • Cookie cutters
  • Straw
  • Paint, glue, beads, markers or other decorations
  • Ribbon or yarn for hanging


  1. Combine ingredients together in a bowl and mix well, finishing by kneading the dough with clean, dry hands. If the dough is sticky, dust your hands with a little flour and knead.
  2. Roll out the cinnamon dough on waxed paper until it’s about ¼” thick.
  3. Cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters.
  4. Use a straw to punch a hole in the ornaments for the ribbon to hang. The circle of dough will pull out with the straw.
  5. Gently place the shapes on a piece of clean wax paper.
  6. Dry completely (about 24 hours).
  7. Once dry, thread a ribbon through the hole you created with the straw, and decorate with paint, markers, etc. You also can use Mod Podge or a clear finishing spray to add a shiny appearance.

Lisa Di Sieno is Director of Bereavement Services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. Many of our locations have grief support available to patients, their families and the general public.

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