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How to Get Through the Holidays After Loss

A young woman in Toronto who recently lost her father will be wearing his Santa hat on Christmas.

Another New York Times reader, newly divorced, says she will spend the holiday hiking up a mountain.

And a reader in Long Beach, Calif., says each holiday he makes a full meal, even if he’s alone — and then has pie for breakfast.

Holidays can bring all sorts of pain after a loss or another kind of family disruption. As I wrote in a recent essay in Well, the Halloween after my marriage ended reminded me of what I missed. On other holidays, my home felt empty without children in pajamas and Legos scattered across every room.

But I learned tricks to get through them: Start new rituals. Fill your days with hobbies. Make plans with friends. Brace yourself.

We asked our readers who have also found the holiday time difficult to tell us how they’ve learned to make the best of the season — and find meaning. Over 260 readers shared their experiences and tips. Here is a selection of their comments, which have been lightly edited.

Invest in yourself when you don’t have your kids. Take a trip, get a Mani-Pedi, sleep in … the first year I didn’t have my son for Christmas, I binged a “Law and Order” marathon and felt depressed and sad. The next time, I leaned in and went to Mexico and enjoyed the beach on Christmas and ate paella and was in a much better head space. — Jennifer Pembroke Johnson, Chicago


My dad passed away in September 2019; I was 25. Two years later, after an incredibly difficult first dad-less family Christmas in 2019 and an isolated Covid-19 holiday in 2020, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that the holidays aren’t going to be the same, and accepting this has been key to making them happier.

My dad was Santa, a true Christmas elf; he lived to decorate, host, and spoil everyone. No one else is my dad, but since we can’t recreate the past, choosing to see the holiday season as an opportunity to build new traditions for myself has been key to recapturing that holiday spirit.

I’m 28 now, and I get to organize plans with friends, family and my partner that make me happy — movie nights, holiday parties, Christmas markets, mulled wine on Fridays — I get to shape the holidays as I want them to be.

Finally, making space to remember some of my dad’s favorite traditions that I want to carry on is important too. I’ll be wearing his Santa hat on Christmas Day, and watching our favorite movies on Boxing Day. — Gillian Webb, Toronto

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