Dying Around the Holidays

Reframing the memory of death on a special day


candle blown out when dying around the holidays

Credit: good therapy.org

“Please don’t let him die on my birthday!”

“If he dies on Christmas, I will never be able to celebrate again!”

It’s hard enough that someone we love is dying. It can seem even worse when they are dying around the holidays, or when the death occurs on a special day such as a  birthday or anniversary. It can make us feel as if the previous joy and celebration of that special day will forever be dampened because it is now associated with death.

The death doesn’t have to occur on the exact date for you to create a negative association. Yet when it does, the wound seems deeper and more painful. Even if your loved one died a day or week before or after a holiday, you will still associate the two events.

But is the impact necessarily a negative one? What I have witnessed is that it need not be.

As a hospice nurse, I have attended the deaths of many people on Christmas, New Years, or Easter. And as painful as dying around the holidays is,  I have also witnessed families search for the sacred and find special meaning in the timing of that death.

“This was mom’s favorite holiday. She was waiting to experience it again.”

last dinner when dying around the holidays

Credit: boozebuddy.com

“Dad hated birthdays – no wonder he died just before it!”

“She died on our 50th anniversary – she always said we would make it to 50 and she made sure of that. I couldn’t have chosen a more dedicated and loving wife.”

“He died on my son’s birthday…they are forever connected since I will never think of one without the other.

Does this reframing take away the pain of grief? Of course not. But it does allow a larger context in which grief, understanding and even acceptance can co-exist.

Will the next anniversary of this day be difficult as you balance the good memories with the memory of a death? Yes. Grief is a lifelong process that ebbs and flows. Trying to tamp down the memory will only make it more painful.

Rather than try to ignore the painful memory, acknowledge it. Just because others may not be outwardly expressing their pain, it doesn’t mean they are stronger, were less impacted, have moved on, or whatever you tell yourself that makes you feel alone in your grief.

Invite others to share your favorite memories of the person who died:

“Remember how Grandma always called and sang us Happy Birthday? I miss that.”

“Your uncle always started Thanksgiving dinner with a prayer of gratitude. Who wants to continue that in his honor? “

Include their memory in the day.

christmas lights in hearts when dying around the holidays

Credit: pixabay.com

Grief is love with no place to go. Shared expressions of loss through reminiscing not only lessen the sense of being alone, they also rekindle the spirit of the person who died and the gratitude you still have for a shared life.

Can you allow both pain and gratitude to co-exist?

That’s the magic of the season.


About Tani

Tani Bahti, RN, CT, CHPN, offers practical guidance to demystify the dying process. A RN since 1976, Tani has been working to empower families and healthcare professionals to enable the best end-of-life experience possible through education and the development of helpful tools and resources. The current owner of Pathways, Tani is also the author of “Dying to Know, Straight Talk About Death and Dying,” a book that SevenPonds considers one of the most helpful books on the subject available today. Founder Suzette Sherman says, “This is the book I will have at the bedside of my dying parents some day, hopefully, a very long time from now.”

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