Sending Holiday Cards After A Death: The Great Debate

After losing a loved one, the holidays go from joyous to jumbled. Many people feel they have to navigate a minefield of added grief woes. From bursting into tears in the store when you see a gift your loved one would have treasured, to that moment when you realize no one else knows how to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

For many, tucked in there somewhere is the question if whether to send holiday cards and if so, how. We often receive emails and comments from people struggling with this decision, many of whom have been hearing opinions from others about what you are “supposed” to do.

As is often the case in grief, there is no right or wrong answer, but there are a few considerations we’ll discuss here. After, we’d love to hear from you in the comments. How have you handled holiday cards after a death?

Should I send holiday cards after experiencing the death of a loved one?

This is the most general way to put this question. Though we often hear the following variations and worries from people who are grieving:

“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.”

“I want to send cards, but I heard it is customary not to.”

“I don’t want to send cards because I don’t want to fake being happy.”

“I want to send cards but my family members don’t (or vice versa).”

The Considerations:

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.

If I send cards, should I acknowledge the loss?

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 here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Most people receiving a holiday card probably already know about the loss, so this information probably won’t be surprising to many. 
  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, 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.  And when you get down to it, many holidays are about giving thanks and remembrance as well as good cheer. 
  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.  If you like, 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 do I acknowledge a death in a holiday card?

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.

November 11, 2019

49 responses on "Sending Holiday Cards After A Death: The Great Debate"

  1. Thanks for mentioning that a lot of people assume that they should navigate a minefield of additional woes prior to losing a loved one. My cousin is thinking to send letters after death to his younger daughters because he’s considered that he might not live to see them when they’re older. It seems like a good idea to consider hiring a company that can keep confidential information private until delivered at the time and place my cousins wants it to be.

  2. My mom just passed on Nov 24, 2019. She stopped eating and drinking more than a spoon and sip several months prior, so it was only a matter of time. She had been in skilled nursing for several months due to cellulitis infection in her legs and needing daily dressing changes.
    I brought her home when I knew time was near, honoring her wishes to pass here.

    It was tough the first week. I’m in the caregiving field so death to me is natural but it’s hard for the living to move past it. She was a practical person. She wished her body go to science and I honored that wish. She would quip, “Why worry about the body when the spirit has moved on?”

    A few years ago, I started my own tradition of going door to door in my court and giving a tin of cookies or box of candies, including a card.
    I’m trying to determine how to include her. I’m considering, In loving memory of…
    I’ve always included her and it’s the last time I will.

    Anyone hate the idea? Have a better sentiment? I’ll need to know within hours, as this is the last weekend before Christmas and I’m working all week.

    Condolences for the heartbreak of losing your loved ones. It’s never easy.

    • Tom Jones my mother , too passed away recently vers similiar to your Moms story. Sorry for your loss and I think giving the tin of cookies is a great idea, you can mention in honor of your dear late mother!

  3. The first Christmas after my husband died, I sent a card with a picture of me and the children, and signed it, “our names… and his name.” I felt like I had to acknowledge him, and to make sure people knew he’d passed. I had many people tell me that they loved it and it was a beautiful way to honor him. Years after that, I just had me and the children’s names.

  4. We lost my husband 2 years ago and my father-n-law this past March, both of cancer. We haven’t sent cards since my husband was diagnosed in 2016. Honestly, this is the first year I actually feel like I’m ready to join the “living” again.
    We will send out cards this year (cutting it close) that will include a picture and his favorite scripture on the inside.

  5. My very sweet, very dear Mother passed away on 4-3-19 and as devastating a loss it was, we (Dad, Sister and myself) are trying to carry on with sending out cards as Mom used to do. I just took a break from writing the cards I’m sending to her associates and friends whom I only just met at her wake and wanted to share what I decided to write on them. Very simply, I wrote: From the family of (Mother’s name) – Father’s name, mine, my Brother’s, my Sister’s. I areanged our names by age.

    As for what we’ve received, I hold no expectations. Many have carried on like any other year, others have acknowledged our loss. My belief is that as long as I carry on as Mother would approve of, then she is continuing to exist through me. She may be physically gone, but she’s very much alive in my mind.

    I hope I’ve been able to help.


    INSIDE ideas:
    1.Wake me up when we visit Christmas past.
    2. Hug the Scrooge in your life extra tight this year(my dad was a bit of a “Scrooge”-in a funny grumpy way)

    Plan to include a Christmas past family photo and fathers name /bday-dday

    Would love to hear feedback on which caption to use or if anyone has any other suggestions 🙂

  7. My father was very ill and passed just days after Christmas 9 years ago, so I didn’t get cards out that year. The following spring, my 20 year-old son suddenly died. I have not sent out holiday cards since. One thing I will do is send out special notes to people who will be having a tough time because of bereavement. I wish for them to find some peace in the holiday season.

    It will never be HOLLY HOLLY HOHOHO for me again. My Christmases will never be “merry” again. Why try to fake it?

  8. Both of my parents died between January and March. I wrote a Christmas letter, but then trashed it. I just don’t feel like sending them. Like you said, most people know about the death, thanks to the internet/social media, and I couldn’t come up with something inspiring to say. Dad died just after midnight on New Year’s. I just don’t have the energy.

  9. My son passed away 2-28-2019 on his 18th birthday and he and I always did our Christmas cards together. I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving and I don’t know if I will be able to celebrate Christmas or not. I’m not sending out cards this year I don’t think I can. I have a daughter that is 24 and she and I are both having a very difficult time with him being gone. When I am able to send cards again I’ll be including him in them someway or I just won’t do them. Holidays are going to be so sad from now on we always did everything together the three of us and my daughter and I are so lost right now and I know it’s not going to get any better we will just learn to go on without him but it’s going to take a very long time.

    • Our son passed away unexpectedly in 2017 and it feels like my life stopped that day. I can’t remember what we did the first Christmas without him. I’m sure I got some cards and even today the ones that say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas feel so insensitive to me. My brother, always very bitter and a bully, seems to be the worst offender. Sometimes I think family are the worst with grief. Norhing in this world is worse than losing a child. And the circumstances were horrible. So yes I understand all you said. Christmas will never be the same again. I could care less about cards and Christmas too. I try to be strong for our youngest son but it is so difficult to fake it. The pain is overwhelming and most people just don’t get it. I’m so sorry for everyone suffering the loss of a loved one.

  10. My 27 year old son died on Dec. 18, 2018. We will never get over losing him. We are trying to figure out how to possibly keep going without him. We basically skipped Christmas last year. I do remember going to Christmas Eve church with my husband, but other than that, I have no memory of it. I think we may have slept through the day. Such a fog. We definitely did not send any Christmas cards, spending most of December in the hospital (son died of cancer). We did receive some Christmas cards. Mostly, people were aware, and sent sympathy cards instead. I was somewhat offended by a few “Merry Christmas” cards sent by a few people thoughtlessly.

    This year, the whole season is difficult. Remembering what was happening a year ago with our dear son, and facing the one-year mark of his death. We plan to be together with our daughter-in-law for that anniversary. No specific plans; just time to be together, grieve, and remember.

    This year for Christmas week, we will be together with our other adult children, at our daughter’s house. I warned them ahead that husband and I do not feel celebratory, but do want to just be together. At home, I am not decorating, and I am not sending any Christmas cards. I expect we will receive some cards, but I sure hope they are things like “Peace” and not “Merry Christmas”. Just like my birthday in January: I do NOT want to be wished Happy Birthday. Something like “Thinking of You” goes over better for me.

    If we ever have grandchildren, I think I would try again to celebrate Christmas with presents and fun. For now, it will need to be enough to sit peacefully, talk together with our remaining children, eat together, walk in the snow, attend church, maybe attend something like the Messiah.

  11. My youngest sister penned a Christmas card to a relative back in 2015 before she fell ill. Eight weeks later, she died unexpectedly and that card was never sent. When I discovered the card, I thought it would be a NICE gesture to send this card the following Christmas of 2016, because my sister would have wanted me to do that. The UNGRATEFUL, EV IL female relative waited whilst the following spring, then she called the cops on me for sending the card and I hate her for that. I have not only LOST my sister’s handwriting, but I was ONCE AGAIN dogged by police for NOTHING. I have had NO contact with this evil person since that time and I never will. This relative KNEW that I was suffering after losing ALL my family members to cancer and my reward for this was that she called the police on me for NOTHING and I will NEVER forgive her.

    • Susan, sending the card was a very thoughtful, kind gesture. I can’t begin to imagine why the relative responded so negatively. Sounds best that you have removed this relative from your life. You deserve to be surrounded by people who have your best interests at heart. I am so sorry for your losses.

  12. I love Christmas, I’m hosting my 36 th Christmas Eve with family and close friends. I lost my first born Grandchild 8 months ago at a young age of 24. We were very close, I’m trying to be there for my daughter every single day, but I can’t seem to get myself to even pick out Christmas cards. I’ve always mailed them the day after thanksgiving . I just can’t , I’m going to , hopefully find cards for my two daughters and son, my family and I are close, I truly believe they will understand . It’s already been tough just getting the decorations up. And even that is much less than normal . I have 10 other grandchildren and many nieces and nephews that I want to celebrate with , the best we can. Santa comes and brings gifts for all the children, so we’re really trying to do the best we can. It’s not going to be easy. We will celebrate by lighting a candle and saying a prayer in memory of him. 🙏🏻 God bless everyone who are grieving. May you have sign from your loved one .❤️

    • Helen, what a heartbreaking loss. I think it’s good you are planning ways to remember this grandson, even during family gathering and celebrating. Another idea is to have an empty chair at the table. If your daughter is going to be there, you might ask her ahead of time how she feels about the ideas you have planned. I write this from the perspective of a mom, grieving a son lost in his 20s, not quite a year ago.

  13. Richard Haughton Livesey, IIINovember 22, 2019 at 4:59 amReply

    Please show examples, with wording, of the appropriate Christmas cards to be sent, by the grieving. Richard Haughton Livesey, III. 22 Nov 2019

    • I don’t know if this is correct but this is what I did. I had 3 short paragraphs. This was the first.

      The passing of (spouse name) this year is heart rending. There is a feeling of sadness over losing him alongside the many many happy memories and love that stays with me forever…a real mix of emotions! I am grateful for my family and friends and the precious time we spend together.

      Second paragraph talked about kids and grand kids. Third paragraph talked about me and what I have been up to. I put this on the back of a photo card of random pictures with my children and grand children in them. I ended with the following statement.

      Wishing you peace at Christmas and all year.

  14. My dad passes away this year on Oct. 4th. Before he died he asked me to send out Christmas Cards. I know I will struggle with that because we always had a grand time doing it. I decided to send Thanksgiving cards with a note inside telling each person what they meant to my dad and to thank them for the memory of me and him sending cards for the past 8 years.

  15. My dad passes away this year on Oct. 4th. Before he died he asked me to send out Christmas Cards. I know I will struggle with that because we always had a grand time doing it and I loved to hear his stories about the people we were sending card. I decided to send Thanksgiving card with a note inside telling each person what they meant to my dad and to thank them for the memory of me and him sending cards for the past 8 years.

  16. My Mam passed away in May 2019 and I will not be sending Christmas cards – I believe this to be an Irish tradition, whether it’s Catholic based I don’t know. I don’t expect to receive cards from family but I expect some cards from people who do not know of her passing. It’ll be a tough Christmas without her

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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 .

  24. 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!

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

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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

  32. 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)

  33. 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.

  34. 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”?

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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

  38. 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.

  39. 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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