Sending Holiday Cards After A Death: the great debate

After losing a loved one there are approximately a million holiday grief challenges that arise.  From bursting into tears in the store when you see a gift they would love to that moment when you realize no one else knows how to carve the turkey, the holidays can feel like a minefield of added grief woes.  Tucked in there somewhere may be the issue of if and how to send holiday cards.  Every year around this time we start to get emails and comments from people struggling with this decision, some who have been hearing opinions from others about what you are “supposed” to do.  There is no right or wrong and there are no easy answers (like so much in grief!), but we’ll tackle some considerations here and then we would love to hear from you in the comments.  How have you handled holiday cards after a death?

To Send or Not to Send

This is the most common and basic question, though the reasons we hear it often vary.  The broad categories are something like this:

  1. I have no energy or motivation to send cards, but I feel like I should because I will receive them and others will be hurt if I don’t.
  2. I want to send cards, but I heard it is customary not to.
  3. I don’t want to send cards because I don’t want to fake being happy.
  4. I want to send cards but my family members don’t (or vice versa).

There is no right answer because you ultimately have to decide what works for you, but here are some things to consider:

  1. The people you would send cards to likely know about your loss.  Chances are they will be understanding if you don’t muster the strength for cards this year.
  2. Internet sources of this “tradition” of not sending cards the year after a loss are hard to come by.  So far as I can tell, it seems to be either an Irish or an old Catholic custom.  Not only is it customary not to send cards the first year after a death, but also not to receive them.  If anyone knows more about this tradition, please leave a comment.  But in general it doesn’t seem to be well-known (at least not here on the interwebs) so I wouldn’t let it stop you!
  3. Sending a card doesn’t mean faking a happy holiday season.  You can find a subdued card with a subtle note or message that feels appropriate for the bitter-sweet feelings you may be having this holiday season. (WYG has two options over in our store.  You can check them out here).
  4. Well, we can’t facilitate a family mediation for you and your family if you disagree, but we can encourage you to sit down and talk out the concerns and wants on either side.  It may be more easily resolved than you think.  You may also be able to find a compromise (for example, yes to sending cards but no to sending a family photo card.

To Acknowledge or Not to Acknowledge

If you decide to send cards the next question is whether you want to acknowledge the loss that occurred during the year.  Again, there is no right or wrong answer, but there are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Most people receiving a holiday card probably know about the loss.  There may be exceptions, but in general sharing this is not going to be new information.
  2. If people who are getting a card don’t know, don’t assume they don’t want to know.  This was a significant life event and, whether they knew or didn’t know the person, if you’re sending them a card there is a good chance they would want to know this is something you are coping with.
  3. It’s okay to be real. Yeah, I know, joy and cheer and merry and happy, the holiday season is filled with words that feel like they have no room for grief.  But life is complicated, it isn’t all joy and cheer, and it is okay to acknowledge that.  It is also okay to say, yes there will be many bittersweet moments.
  4. It’s okay to fake it.  I know, that sounds weird to say.  But sometimes in grief you just want to feel normal again.  Though we rarely advocate stuffing or avoiding emotions, a holiday card is a simple tradition that allows you to take a break if you need one.  You can send a card with a standard holiday greeting and call it a day, just to feel a little bit normal and to put something nice out into the world.

How To Acknowledge

If you decide to go this route, the appropriate way to acknowledge can be hard to gauge.  Some families chose to use a family photo that includes their loved one.  Others choose to write a sentence or two acknowledging the loss.  A third option comes from a WYG reader, who included her deceased child’s name when signing the card but put the name in a heart. Some include a note or letter going into more depth about how everyone is coping, ways of continuing bonds, etc.  If you have other ideas on how to acknowledge this, please leave a comment to let us know!

If You Don’t Send Cards

If you decide against cards, then regret that decision, don’t worry! You can send a text or email on the holiday to those who matter most.  You can also decide to send a New Year’s card to buy yourself a little more time if you find yourself regretting the decision.

If you are struggling with the decision, or if you have tips to share, please leave a comment to keep the conversation going!  And don’t forget to check out the WYG holiday cards that support our site in our shop.

April 11, 2019

28 responses on "Sending Holiday Cards After A Death: the great debate"

  1. I lost my wife two years ago since when I have not sent cards of any description. My wifes niece got married recently and I sent a card signed from myself and my wife. I know my wife would have agreed with the sentiments.but I now think I may have done wrong which is giving me great cause for concern as I would not wish to upset anyone.

  2. While I wanted no part of this after my wife shockingly passed away , it became something I had to dwell on. But not too long as with so much in grieving- my attitude is “Damn the torpedoes”…If they dont like it? Tough.
    The fact was that by December nobody was calling or texting me anyway. But what I did was send out to the real close and tight ones at one time anyway. So I mustered up a box that was unused from year before and just blankly signed Have a Merry Christmas..Love
    The hardest part was do I or do I not sign for my wife? I ruined a few cards in the confusion. Then I just said to hell with that too and did not. Lets be real- she WAS not here. You can drive yourself batty with over thinking everything you do or say. The fact is I wish I had received none to begin with as they just seemed cold and sent almost as if they had to. They really did not. It would not have phased me at all.

  3. My daughters partner recently passed away, she is being so brave, but my question is that I want to write something in her Christmas card conveying her bravery and that we are always there and proud of her. Please any ideas, she has expressed that she wants to receive a Christmas card, but would like to put my own verse or message in

  4. My uncle died on Christmas day 2017. I rarely get to see my cousin. I know that she will probably not have a very merry Christmas, but I feel that I need to acknowledge her since I always send her a card. Should I send a card, if so, what type of card? Would a phone call be better than a card to let her know that I am thinking of her?

  5. My daughter past away in Aug. 2018.
    I feel it is so insensitive to send me a Christmas card with your form letter, telling me how fantastic your year was, Hope 2019 is amazing for you as 2018. Really ??? I’ve thrown them straight to the trash.

  6. My mother-in-law died in 05/18. Yesterday she received a CHRISTmas card from someone I don’t know. Obviously she knew them and there was enough of a relationship for them to send a card. How do I respond to this card? I don’t want to do something as impersonal as write “Deceased, return to sender”. So what should I do? Thanks!

    • Mrs. Drake,
      My mother died in mid December, 2 years ago. I responded simply to the cards she received with something like: “I’m sorry you weren’t informed of Mother’s passing.” And then gave a brief description of what led to her death. Since I didn’t personally know these people, I kept it short and sweet.
      A. Brown

  7. Last day i was searching blog for New year then i searched this Best new year greetings. amazing blog related to New year so you must check this out .

  8. I’m so glad I ‘googled’ what to do. I was mainly talking to myself in the search bar. See, in trying to do what’s expected, I pulled out my cards and address list. I found the card that was for Mom last year. Christmas was delayed because I medivac’ed out with her best friend and spent the holidays away from home. Though I was on the phone w her constantly, days cane and went. The day we would have taken our drive to look at Christmas lights was somehow the hardest. And I wondered often if ‘this’ would be my last Christmas w Mom (Dad passed suddenly 11/1/13). I brushed it away because I thought I was being overly dramatic given our circumstances and surroundings. I was able to bring her friend home. But Florence passed in March. My brother found mom on the floor in May. She fought so hard to regain her…everything… until a final infection took her on August 25, 2018. I was by her side for months and I still don’t know … I’ve done the obituary and the services and dealing with family ‘drama’ nobody should have to go through. And here I sit looking at last year’s card. As much as I want to be joyful and celebrate all that comes with Christmas, I don’t know if I can. And now I know I don’t have to. Thank you!

  9. Where can I find Christmas cards to thank people and remember my wife death

  10. Valentines Day is here. I would always make a fun time with my wife during this holiday including a homemade silly poem and card or some other expression of love. She passed in April 2017. This is the first year when I have done nothing. Well, maybe I will send a poem to her old e-mail address that is still active. Or maybe I can send one to God’s e-mail address, whatever that may be. Or maybe, I will continue to do nothing. Sometimes it is painful to dwell on her passing for a long period of time, and I am pretty slow about putting together a poem. Maybe, I will do something on her birthday.

    • To Steve who may never see this note. (Valentines note, 2018)
      What a sweet relationship you had with your dear wife. Even though there is such deep loss, you have never lost the loving gentle thoughts of sharing with her.

      Write your poem…

      Someone shared with me to write, then keep the note close to my heart. When I was ready, find a way to release the note. Sending it to God’s email is sweet.
      I lost my Father, and your note helped…..thank you, jody

  11. My uncle passed away on December 6, 2017. About two weeks after, he received a Christmas card with a monetary gift enclosed. Since I was left to handle his estate, I ‘m unsure on how to respond or handle this. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

  12. My son died in 2015, I sent cards that year because a few months before he past I made everyone take a family picture for the Christmas card while we were on vacation. No one wanted to do it they complained the whole time, but it was the last picture of all 5 of us. I felt that even though my son did not want to take the picture he did for me, so I needed use it for the Christmas cards. I had our names printed on the card, so I didn’t have to write names, that would have been too hard. Instead of my son’s name I put a gold stamp of a dove. On the back of the card I had a picture of him with a message of how we missed him and the dates. The following year we did not send any, but this year we did. Since my daughters had big milestones this year, I felt that they deserved to have a card celebrating their big year, so I sent them. I picked a card that had plaid on it, since my son wore a lot of plaid, I still signed his name with the gold dove, and on the back I put a picture of my kids when they were little and a quote from Charles Dickson, God Bless Us, Everyone. I am glad I sent cards this year, I don’t want my other kids to feel like because there brother died that we can never celebrate again.

    • Irene, my son died in 2015 also. What Charles Dickens quote did you use? I did send a card the year my son died as I felt I needed to but havent sent one since. I’m thinking about sending one this year mostly to honor my daughter. I like your idea of including a quote!

  13. My mother always fussed over finding subdued cards to send. She knew Happy and Merry were unwelcome.

    I don’t think she ever told me what she did when my father died. She died last month.

    I can think of two I plan to send. One to someone who needs all the support he can get. One to someone who won’t even know. Yet.

  14. I lost my mom to cancer in July. Usually my Christmas card features my pets. This year my card is a photo of knitted ornaments that I made (my mom taught me to knit). On the back is a photo of my mom, with her name, dates, and “forever loved, deeply missed.” This way I can acknowledge the loss and celebrate her presence at the same time. I wasn’t sure when I ordered the cards that I would actually send them – but as soon as I saw them in print I knew I had made the right choice.

    • Cindy,
      My Mom passed 8/25/18. Your idea is a lovely tribute. We have 3 kids (16, 14, 12). They are always featured our Christmas Cards. Rewind to 3 years … our dog “Mona: died. I put 2 photos on the back of our Christmas Card, one of “Mona” and another of the kids with Mona and “In Memory of our Best Friend ” with her name and dates. I’m sitting here making our Christmas Cards and feel I needed to do the same for My Mom, but I didn’t want it to look like a mass card. I’m using your words with a lovely photo of her and the kids last year laughing and having a grand olde time. Thanks for the idea. I’m feeling good about it!

  15. I have decided to send some cards. People have been so generous to me I want to acknowledge it in a not in the card. I hope that is appropriate

  16. To all who are struggling at this time of the year, my heart goes out to you. It is certainly not easy to celebrate when you have lost a loved one, no matter what time of the year. There is no right or wrong, but how I view it Is to celebrate the life of your loved one, they are watching over you and would not want you to be sad at this special time. Celebrate that you had them and new them for the time that you did, feel their presence around, you, know that they are there, set a place for them at the xmas table, hange a special xmas decoration on the tree, talk about them, bring them back into your life, they will be missing you too. (That is my belief)

  17. I decided to get pre-printed cards so I don’t have to write anything. 99% of the people I send to know my husband died in March of this year. I got a subdued religious message. I figure my family and friends would like to hear from me as much as I like to hear from them.

  18. My husband died in 2015, this is my 3rd Christmas without him, and haven’t sent Christmas cards since and I am certainly not in the mood to send them this year either. I am even debating not to put decorations up this year too. It was my husbands most favourite time of the year, he loved the build up, It may seem that I am dis honouring him but unfortunately he is up there and I am down here. It is all a matter of what each individual feels they want to do.

    • I agree in what you wrote. If as in your case as well as mine your loved one MADE Christmas what it was and they are no longer there? That holiday as painful as it can be is then gone forever. I went through all the motions and at same time fast forwarded all in my mind to get me out of the holidays. It was my wife that made those days so special for me and my children. She is gone and therefore so am I..even if nobody wants to hear it. This was my first year…I do not expect things to get better no matter what all tell me. I sometimes curse the day as to ” why was I the one left alone”?

  19. I personally think it is entirely up to the individual. There is no right or wrong answer as we are all different.
    If you want to send a card, send it. If you don’t, then thats your choice too. Don’t let other people dictate as to how you are supposed to feel, as they are NOT in your shoes. There is always, next year. Sending all who have lost someone important in their life, a huge understanding HUG.

  20. My husband, Andy, passed away in November 2016 and it is so hard knowing that the Christmas celebrations are coming our way, and we can’t share them anymore. He loved Christmas, and I have one voicemail message from him that I had saved on our landline at home. The message was from two Christmases ago, and he was excited about a gift that he received from the hospital staff where he was an in-patient. It breaks my heart, and so, this Christmas I decided to put our tree up in his honour. He was my hero and I hope that he sees both me and our sweet cat, Ginger, looking at it every night and thinking of him. He knows how much we miss him. We were “his girls”. Rest in peace Andy.

  21. When my husband died in September of 2015, I could not send Christmas cards. My heart was not in the joyful customs of the holiday. I again struggled last year, but when I saw the WYG card, I decided that it was perfect for honoring him and allowing me to feel happiness in this simple act. I will be sending the new one this year. Thank you so much for helping me with this difficult decision. Jeanette

  22. This will be the seventh holiday season since my young adult son died suddenly. I have not sent out Christmas cards since then. I find the holiday season forever changed, and would prefer that the whole season just be over.

    We get fewer cards than we used to get. I’ve told many that I just can’t do cards anymore, and they understand. I think the Internet has caused a decline in holiday cards anyway. We get to see so others’ news and photos there.

  23. I create a little Christmas letter each year, that I tuck into the card. I started doing this after my husband passed. I acknowledge the loss or losses that have happened for me throughout the year in this format and thank people for their support – there’s been a lot to acknowledge lately, but thankfully 2017 is the first year since 2013 without me suffering a recent bereavement, and I have commented on that in this year’s letter.

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