Navigating the holidays after losing a loved one to cancer

The festive season brings with it a rush of joy and cheer, but for families who have lost a loved one to cancer, the holiday spirit can be bittersweet. As the holiday season approaches, it's essential to remember that while the presence of a parent, sibling or family member may be missed, their spirit can still be woven into the fabric of the celebrations.

Grieving during the holiday season can be a complex experience, but with thoughtful planning and open communication, you can find joy (solace/peace/comfort) in honouring your loved one's memory. Balancing individual needs and emotions can be challenging, so take care to acknowledge that moments of anger and even apathy are natural parts of the grieving process.

After Abbey lost her dad to cancer, she said “The first Christmas without my dad meant that to me Christmas had lost its spark... Every year since we have got a new kind of normal but it’s nothing like the joy Christmas used to bring me with my dad around.”

In grief, it's not uncommon for adults to shield children from discussions surrounding special occasions like calendar holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. While this protection may stem from a place of love, fostering transparent and honest communication is crucial to navigating these emotional milestones.

Integrating the memory of your departed loved one into the festivities can foster a sense of togetherness. Here are some thoughtful suggestions to infuse their spirit into your celebrations this year:

  1. Embrace and reminisce about your shared family traditions.
  2. Incorporate activities your loved one enjoyed, such as playing their favourite board game or engaging in their preferred pastime.
  3. Pay homage to their culinary legacy by preparing their beloved dishes or drinks.
  4. Play their favourite songs and share your associated memories through music.
  5. Wear a piece of their clothing, jewellery, or a spritz of their perfume, carrying their essence with you throughout the day.
  6. Share humorous anecdotes and stories they loved, evoking their laughter and warmth.
  7. Create a space for collective memories, where everyone can openly reflect on special moments shared with them.

Understandably, each family member may approach the holiday season differently, and it's crucial not to impose expectations on yourself or others. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to commemorate the festivities; rather, it's about discovering what soothes or comforts one another in your grief.

Abbey found strategies that worked for her to cope around the festive season.

“For me personally I used breathing techniques when I got stressed or anxious and I found joy in the little things and being about to spend time with my family”.

In the initial stages, the first festive season without your loved one might seem unbearably challenging, charged with apprehension or fear. Anticipating Christmas Day's arrival, for example, can often be more daunting than the day itself. Remember, it's okay to feel overwhelmed and seek support when needed.

It's essential to recognise too that while your friends' lives may continue unaffected, they can offer support if asked. Don't hesitate to reach out for assistance during significant occasions or anniversaries.

If you find relief in connecting with others who have shared similar experiences, consider joining our online community Canteen Connect. You can find solace and understanding among peers who comprehend the intricacies of navigating the holiday season after the loss of a loved one to cancer. Additionally, our dedicated counsellors are here to offer guidance and support throughout this tender period of reminiscence and celebration.

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Join us at one of our end-of-year Canteen Connect events:

christmas craft


It's Craftsmas!

End Of Year Craft Session

Tuesday, 5 Dec

07:00 pm - 09:00 pm



holidays can be tough


Holidays Can Be Tough

Saturday, 16 Dec

02:00 pm - 04:00 pm



canqueer christmas


CanQueer Christmas:

Drag Queen Bingo

Sunday, 17 Dec

01:00 pm - 02:30 pm