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.

December 6, 2017

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

  1. This article will assist the internet people for building up new blog or even a blog from start to
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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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)

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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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