10 Ways to Include Absent Loved Ones at Christmas

Every Christmas I hang three stockings. One for each of my sons. One of those stockings will remain intact on Christmas day. No little hands rummaging for prizes. It will be filled with letters, poems, Christmas cards and wishes that things were different. It’s the stocking that belongs to my middle child. The child who died when he was only two weeks old.

For many of us this season of joy is tinged with sadness. When you are missing a loved one, the empty chair can seem a little emptier in December. It’s at this time of year, against the backdrop of happiness and an increased emphasis on family, that I miss my son the most.


It’s important that I include him at Christmas time. Not because I am lingering over my grief – he died three and a half years ago. Not because I want to make other people uncomfortable – I really don’t. Not because I can’t let go – I don’t think anyone ever lets their child go, no matter how long ago they left your embrace. I include him in family traditions because he is a part of our family. He remains my son. I remain his mother and there are things I do to strengthen and honour that connection.

Perhaps you are missing loved ones this Christmas, too. Whether they are absent through loss or estrangement, Christmas can be a painful time. Sometimes it can feel that honouring the grief that comes at Christmas is at odds with everyone else’s expectations. But I personally don’t believe in sweeping those feelings under the Christmas tree. I am not advocating for wallowing in sadness. Instead, I think there are positive things we can do to celebrate and honour those not with us.

There are things I do every year for my son. Some are specific to grieving a child but others apply more broadly. If you are missing someone special this Christmas you may find some inspiration for your own traditions.

10 ways to include an absent loved one at Christmas

  1. Hang a stocking for them. You could make or buy or the stocking but consider having it personalised. I love seeing Xavier’s name alongside his brothers’. It’s the one time of year I get to see them all together.
  2. Buy a Christmas present for a person the same age as your loved one and place under a charity wishing tree.
  3. Write your loved one a letter and place it in their stocking.
  4. Buy or make them a decoration each year.
  5. Decorated a space in your home just for your loved one.
  6. Light a candle in a church. Find a beautiful church that allows you to light candles for those who have gone before. I don’t think it matters what your religious persuasion is. I sit and talk to my son. Some might call it praying. For me, it’s a quiet and significant place to connect with Xavier.
  7. Include them in your Christmas cards. Sign your cards with your loved one’s name included or with a small sign that represents them. I always sign off with 5 kisses – one for each member of our family. An X has come to represent more than just a kiss.
  8. Attend a Christmas service for bereaved families. Your local SIDS and Kids, SANDS, Compassionate Friends or hospital may host one.
  9. Decorate a Christmas candle and light it each evening in December
  10. Send a Christmas card to another bereaved family, letting them know that you are thinking of them and their loved one. Carly Marie Dudley, an artist who dedicates herself to healing after loss, has a lovely and appropriate range.


If you are about to face your first Christmas after saying goodbye, be gentle with yourself. Do what feels right for you, your immediate family and your grief. That may mean that you depart with traditions this year. It will be rough and you need to do whatever you can to get through. Don’t feel that you have to rush into creating traditions for your loved one, unless that’s exactly what will give your heart rest. Traditions come with time. It’s amazing that relationships can grow and change over time, even with people no longer in our immediate reach.

I strongly believe that love and connection are ties that run deep. I do not believe death severs that connection. Relationships continue to exist. And I think it’s perfectly lovely to honour those relationships at a time of year when we pause, reflect and give thanks for those we love.

Are you facing Christmas without a loved one? Do you create traditions that include them?

More About Christmas Traditions:

Top image: Getty / Bottom image: Robyna May