Skip to main content
All Posts By

Courtney Cook

family watching a Christmas movie together with lights

What Christmas Movies Teach Us About Grief

By Christmas, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

The holidays are always a hectic time, but when you’re grieving, they can be even more difficult because you feel your loved one’s absence more strongly. While you may not feel up to participating in your normal holiday traditions, it’s important to find ways to balance your feelings of grief with the joy of the season.

One way to balance joy and grief is by taking time to understand what you’re feeling and why. Learning how grief affects you personally and discovering positive coping mechanisms will help you begin to incorporate your loss into your life story. You may not realize it, but classic Christmas movies can teach us valuable lessons about grief and how it can affect you and those you love. Let’s talk about three of those movies!

bridge covered in snow with soft daylight

It’s a Wonderful Life

In the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life, we get a glimpse into the life of George Bailey and see what the world would have looked like if he hadn’t been born. Through the story, we see how many people he influenced and how many lives he changed. As Clarence points out to him, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

The importance of remembrance

If someone you love has died, you are probably very aware of the hole they left behind. Sometimes their absence might seem almost tangible. That’s one of the reasons why grief is so powerful – the person you lost was an integral part of your life, and your brain doesn’t know how to process the loss. That person impacted your life, and for that reason alone, their life is worth remembering.

While George Bailey’s life may have seemed insignificant to him, he had a positive impact on the world, and he eventually realizes his story is important. In the same way, each person’s story is important and worth remembering. One way to honor a loved one’s memory is by participating in different remembrance activities, like attending a remembrance service or creating a memory capsule.

Community and support

The movie also shows how important community and support are during difficult times. You might feel grief more strongly during the holidays, and you may feel lonely when you think of your loved one’s absence. That’s why it’s important to rely on the community around you. George Bailey tries to persevere on his own, carrying all the burdens of life on his own shoulders, and it breaks him down. At the end of the movie, though, George’s family and friends gather around him, supporting him and standing by him through thick and thin.

Just as George’s community supported him through his struggles, your community can help you through your struggles. Grief can be difficult, and you need people around you to help you along the journey. If you don’t feel like you have anyone you can rely on, you can look for a grief support group in your area. No matter what, having support in your grief journey will make the path easier to travel.

carving a christmas turkey with family

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

It’s hard to believe that the animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas first released in 1966! Generations of children have watched the Grinch’s plot to steal Christmas and his later redemption as he learns about the true reason for Christmas. Surprisingly, this movie has a lot to teach about grieving during the holidays.

Reach out to the grieving

While a grieving person’s heart isn’t “two sizes too small,” their heart is likely hurting at the holidays. Sometimes that pain makes someone who is grieving withdraw from those around them or act differently, just like the Grinch. When someone is hurting, they often erect walls between themselves and others.

If you know someone who is grieving, take the time to reach out to them during the holidays. By showing them kindness, you can help their heart heal. If the grieving person resists your efforts, that’s okay. Continue to be kind; they will still appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Open up to your loved ones

If you personally are grieving this holiday season, it’s important to know that spending time with family or friends can help you begin to heal. As we see when the Grinch realizes the true meaning of the holiday and joins the Whos for their Christmas dinner, ritual, tradition, and fellowship can help soothe your aching heart. Participating in traditions and rituals help people grieve together and can help you find meaning in the loss you’ve experienced.

If your relationship with your loved ones has been strained, it may be hard at first to reach out to them. However, asking for help and realizing your limits are important steps in your grief journey. While it may be tempting to stay in your comfort zone, opening yourself up to relationships and sharing with others how you feel is an important part of the grieving journey.

Christmas photos and memories

A Christmas Carol

When you’ve lost a loved one, it can be difficult to feel joyful during the holidays. Maybe, like Ebenezer Scrooge, you’ve found yourself avoiding personal connections with others, withdrawing into yourself and refusing to open up. In a way, the classic Christmas movie A Christmas Carol is a tale of a man who has been hurt in the past and has erected walls to protect himself.

Reflect on Christmas past, present, and future

As both the book and its many movie adaptations show, isolation only leads to loneliness. Scrooge resists the kindness and Christmas spirit of his nephew Fred and his employee Bob Cratchitt. That attitude leads to him eating alone in his house, all his scrimping and saving leaving him alone and miserable in a dark, gloomy room. It’s only when he’s visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley and the different spirits of Christmas that he finally learns what life is all about and opens up to his friends and family.

While Scrooge is terrified by the spirits who remind him of the true nature of life and Christmas, you don’t have to go through that. Instead, take stock of how you feel and reflect on the best ways to help yourself grieve this holiday season. If you’ve lost sight of the joy of the season, these moments of reflection can help you rediscover the meaning and purpose of the holidays.

Christmas Past

Try thinking about your own “Christmas Past.” If you have pleasant memories of Christmases past, examine why they are so memorable to you. What made those times special? Was it the presents, or was it the time spent with family or friends? By contemplating those Christmas memories, you can learn what you value most and remember why you celebrate the holidays. As you rediscover what makes the holidays meaningful, you can find a way to embrace both joy and grief.

Christmas Future

However, not everyone has positive Christmas memories. If your holiday memories are more painful, you might find it helpful to ponder “Christmas Future.” What do you want for your holidays in the future? Isolation will lead to more lonely Christmases, so consider ways you can reach out to family, friends, or support groups in your area.

Christmas Present

Even more importantly, think about now – “Christmas Present.” There are things you can do this Christmas – or any day – to make progress on your grief journey. That could mean creating fellowship with people around you, taking time to pursue something you’re passionate about, or serving others in your community. By opening yourself up and finding ways to engage with your grief, you can continue to heal in a healthy way. While you may not be dancing around town like Scrooge, you can still find joy while you’re grieving.

Perhaps the lessons in these three classic tales resonated with you and gave you a new perspective on your grief this Christmas season. Throughout the holidays, keep in mind that grief takes time. It’s okay if you aren’t feeling 100 percent or if you need to bow out of a few engagements. You’ll need to give yourself grace while you’re grieving. But remember – you need joy to balance out your grief as you learn how to live life again and find your new normal.

mother holding son looking at Christmas lights

Holiday Remembrance Activities for Grieving Parents

By Christmas, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

If you have lost a child, you are probably very aware of the pain the holidays can bring. It might seem impossible to connect with the joy of the season when all you feel is grief. Whether your child died recently or many years ago, the holidays can make your grief feel fresh, and you may feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. But amid the hustle and bustle, taking time to honor and remember your child’s life by participating in remembrance activities can help you through the ups and downs of the season.

While cutting back on holiday stress will be beneficial, finding ways to honor your child’s memory can help you heal. Participating in healing actions can encourage you to express your feelings and acknowledge your emotions as a natural part of grieving. Even more importantly, remembrance activities can help you reconcile with the loss and continue your grief journey.

While you can do whatever makes the most sense for you, here are 6 remembrance ideas to get you started:

Christmas stockings hanging from a mantle

Put up a stocking

Putting up a stocking with your child’s name on it can be a great way to honor their memory during the holidays. In addition to using the stocking as a visual reminder, you can also put different items in the stocking. For example, you and your family members could write letters to your child and place them in the stocking. You could also put toys in the stocking that you can later donate to charity, honoring your child by caring for other children.

mother holding son looking at Christmas lights

Share happy memories

When a child dies, it’s easy to focus on the time you’ve lost with them. While sadness is a vital part of the grieving process, sharing happy memories with your family members can help you treasure the time you had with your child. In return, your family members may also share their memories, giving you the chance to learn new stories about your child. When you share stories and memories, your appreciation for the times you had with your child will grow.

woman making a Christmas wreath

Make holiday decorations

If you like DIY crafts, making holiday decorations can be a way to remember your child each year. You could make an ornament with their name or photo on it or decorate with your child’s favorite color. Maybe you could create a personalized wreath, incorporating your child’s favorite flowers or holiday-related items. Throughout the creative process, you (and anyone else you invite to join you) can engage with your grief in an uplifting and healthy way. After you’ve finished, you’ll have something tangible to bring out every year to honor your child’s memory and make them part of your holiday season.

cozy chair next to table with coffee and Christmas decorations

Create a grief corner

When someone you love has died, you or your family members may need time alone. One way to encourage that is by creating a grief corner in your house. A grief corner is a specific spot where any family member can go to sit by themselves to grieve. This could be something simple, like a chair with a cozy blanket, or you could set up a photo of your lost child with some of their favorite toys. If you have other children, a grief corner could help them learn to recognize their feelings and take time alone when they need to.

toys and socks in a cardboard donation box

Give to a charity in their name

Giving time, money, or items to a charity in your child’s name can be a great way to honor their memory. Maybe your child had a specific cause they were concerned with, and you can support that cause. If your child died from a specific disease, you could also donate to support research about that disease to help families like yours. Or, if you lost your child during pregnancy or shortly after birth, you could create a gift basket to donate to a family in the NICU.

You could also consider things your child was passionate about. What was their favorite sport or activity? You could volunteer to teach other children about that activity. Did they have a favorite animal? You could sponsor a wildlife rescue or spend time volunteering at your local shelter. Whatever you choose, giving to something your child cared about will help you honor them in a meaningful way.

person icing snowflake and gingerbread man cookies

Create a new tradition

After a child dies, old traditions may be painful or feel difficult to enjoy. While participating in old traditions might bring up happy memories of your child, you could also start a new tradition in their honor. This could be anything from trying a new holiday recipe to volunteering at a local soup kitchen. If you have other children, creating a new tradition can be a way for them to remember their sibling. These traditions can become lasting remembrance activities you can engage in for years to come.

woman baking with two children

Remember – Include Your Living Children

As a parent, there will be times when you want to grieve on your own and work through your emotions in a private space. That’s perfectly normal and healthy. However, in your own grief, don’t forget that any other children in the home are also grieving.

Children and teenagers may have trouble processing their grief, so you may need to help them along their journey. Look for ways to discuss what they may be feeling. Invite them to participate in some of these remembrance activities with you. Let them see you cry and share memories, so they know it’s safe to do the same. Throughout the process, you will grow closer as a family and find a way to move forward.

It goes without saying that your holiday will look different after losing a child, but engaging in remembrance activities can be a beautiful way to grieve and mourn.

No matter what, don’t forget to take time to grieve and be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to put on a happy face just because it’s Christmas. You are a human being with complex emotions. You’re going to have good moments and bad moments – that’s okay. When good moments come, embrace them. When grief comes, engage with it. By doing so, you can balance the grief you feel with the joy of the season.

Skip to content