Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

Like every other year, the leaves changed and fell and the Black Friday ads started too soon. We turned back our clocks and hunkered down as the chill of late Autumn set in. But let’s face it: The holidays are going to be very, very different this season.

One unfortunate truth about holiday gatherings is that they are sometimes an opportunity to see older friends and loved ones, potentially for the last time. The danger of contracting the coronavirus is not limited to the elderly, and many who are living with even manageable health conditions are at higher risk of coronavirus being a life-threatening illness. And so, the pandemic has further heightened the sense of urgency for people to come together, but it will be quite disruptive to these events in 2020.

We often talk about “the empty chair” at the holiday table that used to be filled by a deceased loved one. This year, there are likely to be several empty chairs due to restrictions on in-home gatherings and people who need to isolate for their protection (or the protection of others).

Here are three ways to remember loved ones, regardless of why their chairs will be empty this year, courtesy of Have the Talk of a Lifetime.

Holiday Memories Tablecloth

Capture some stories by asking family members and guests to jot down a favorite memory or something for which they are thankful, making sure they sign and date their contribution. After the meal, talk about what each person wrote. If you make this an annual event, use the same tablecloth every year and it will become a tapestry of your family’s memories for young and old alike. Use an inexpensive white canvas tablecloth or fabric that won’t bleed through the table when using permanent markers. You might consider putting the tablecloth on a spare buffet table, rather than the one at which you enjoy your meal, to protect it against spills and stains.

Tip for 2020: Ask everyone to send their memories virtually, either through a group text message, an email chain or even a private Facebook group. Each family can write their stories and everyone else’s on their own tablecloth. Then, plan to bring all the tablecloths to share when it’s safe again to gather in large groups.

Gratitude Tree

This is an excellent tradition to record and recall memories of loved ones who could not attend a family gathering of any occasion, including the holidays, a birthday, or any life event such as a wedding or baby shower. Simply collect fallen branches or twigs, dry and cut them to the desired length and place them into a vase or other sturdy decorative container. Use scraps of colored paper to make memory tags, on which people can write messages of gratitude or special memories of loved ones. Take turns reading what was written as you attach the tags to the twigs. Keep the handwritten tags in a safe place for the next gathering.

Tip for 2020: Have each family take photos of their gratitude tree to share with everyone. Then, designate a tech-savvy family member (college-aged grandkids are great for this) to compile all the photos into a slide show or gratitude video that can be shared with the whole family.

Holiday Time Capsule

Strengthen family bonds and preserve treasured memories by creating a time capsule. As with the tablecloth and gratitude tree, this is an opportunity for guests at your gathering to write down special memories or bring mementos about which to learn and reminisce. Place the items in a plastic bag, and then a sealed container that protects the notes and items from moisture or other damage. Be sure to write the date on the container. How long you wait until you open the container depends on your family, how often you gather or how patient you are! You can open the container every year and add new items or wait several years before discovering just how much has changed over time.

Tip for 2020: Ask each family to wrap their time capsule up like a holiday gift and bring it with them to next year’s celebration. Then, have each family pick one of the presents to open and share with the group (encourage them to pick one that is not theirs to make it more of a surprise).

Whatever you might be celebrating this season, remember that it’s possible to remember loved ones with some creativity and items that are easy to find.

What are your favorite holiday traditions for family members you’ve lost or can’t be with in person? Let us know in the comments.

Talk of a Lifetime White Paper: Get ideas for implementing the Have the Talk of a Lifetime program at your funeral home. (Download Now)

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