The "New Normal" of the Holidays
by Kara L.C. Jones
Photos by Hawk Jones

The holidaze are just hard. We all come to a place after our children die when "normal" gets redefined, and for me, the "new normal" was a whole revision of the holidaze. I felt like grief was the first part to the journey. But beyond grief, I was still a parent. I was still Dakota's mommy. So my challenge then became: "How do I incorporate my different kind of parenthood into the holidays?" That meant some moments of grief and sadness, but also some moments of doing Kindness Project things for others in my son's name, etc.

Now some of the family and friends around us could accept that in any given moment, I was just going to feel whatever I felt. In one moment, it might be joy. In the next, it might be tears. Some were able to roll with the flow of my "new normal." But others were not. Others felt I should just "be over it" or that if I could experience any amount of joy, then I should always feel joy and nothing sad. I had to make some hard decisions about how much of that inflexibility I could put up with and how much I couldn't put up with. As Richard Obershaw says, "Death always rewrites your address book for you." And so there are some people who just don't come around anymore in my "new normal" version of the holidaze. There was some hard work that went along with letting go of those people because after all, it is another layer of loss on top of the loss of my child. But I decided at some point that I will not put up with anyone who refuses to acknowledge the full scope of my parenthood: being a mom and grandma to both our living children and grands and to our deceased son.

These are some things we began doing -- for our own sanity -- and to share our full experiences with others during the holidays:

  • When stockings were hung, so were tiny stockings hung for those who were dead. For children who died and other ancestors who died as adults. At the beginning of dinner, we let everyone know that the stockings were there and who they were for. And we asked people, as they moved through the night to consider writing a little note to any one (or all of those) who we loved and were missing. After they wrote their notes, to please fold them up and fill the tiny stockings. Sometimes at the end of the "opening gifts" portion of the show, we would then take the notes out of the tiny stockings and read the notes outloud. Sometimes we would just leave them. And sometime between the Christmas holiday and New Years, I'll take all the notes out and add them to the family tree memory album.


  • We will usually shop for our son, just as we do for others. I buy things that would be appropriate to the age he'd be now -- 5 years old this year. I will even wrap the gifts and put the under the tree. We'll open his gifts right along with everyone else. We oooh and ahhh over them. And then the next day, I put Kindness Cards on everything and go to the local "winter clothes drive" or something like that and donate everything -- well, I usually keep one thing, but I donate the rest.


  • When doing holiday cards or letters, I always sign with little angle wings that have Dakota's name between them or some such marking, so he's included. I have at times gone so far as to ask in my holiday cards that if people are buying gifts for our living children and grands, that they then also make a memorial donation to the charity of their choice in honor of our dead son. Most people ignore it -- too uncomfortable for them to even think of death at a time like this! :) But I feel like I'm doing something active with my son's legacy by asking, so there!

Anyway, you get the idea...

It is hard no matter what we do. Those little cousins who are the age my son would be are especially hard to see. Ironically, their parents are the most intolerant of our "new normal." I think they don't like to be consciously reminded that a child who should be the age of their children is dead, you know? It brings them too close to how fragile ALL our lives are. So we don't see them very often. But it is just as well. We have more peaceful holidays without their weird energy -- and I'm certain that they think the same of us!!

Whatever you decide to you as you create the "new normal" in each year after the death of a child, remember that there is no right way or wrong way to this journey. Try something one year, and if it doesn't work for you, then don't do it next year. Try something else. And if you decide that dealing with any of the "holiday" stuff is too much, that is okay, too!! You have my permission to stay home and do some good self-care!! Stay warm. Have some tea. Watch old movies. Or play scrabble with your partner. Or just be alone in the quiet. Whatever you do, please be gentle with yourself!

Please note: At the bottom of the "Table of Contents" page/main page of the Loss Journal here at KotaPress, there is a search engine. If you search there for words like "holidaze" or "holidays", you should find a few items from archived issues as well, including the following articles:

The Holidaze Approach
Ideas for the Holidaze
Trying to Cope with the Holidays
Coping with the Holidays: Ideas

About the Authors
Kara is a freedom fighting guerrilla artist who has recently taken to henna as a solace and form of expression. Check out her new site at:

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