Remembering the dead
December 10, 2014 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I lost my husband this year, and my adult children lost their beloved father. I would like to start a tradition for remembrance this Christmas, at a meal or at gift opening. Ideally it should be short, meaningful, and accommodating of a wide range of beliefs, from atheist, to agnostic, to believer, to alternate religion. Any suggestions?
posted by francesca too to Human Relations (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
First, very sorry for your loss. This might be too simple of a suggestion and therefore not what you are looking for, but what about each person sharing a favorite memory of your husband while you are opening the gifts/or at the meal.
posted by kmr at 9:14 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A dear friend of mine made her family tradition thus--every year, one member collects a certain amount of money from the other members, makes a donation in the name of the deceased, and then, reveals the charity on Christmas morning. Different charity every year, everyone gets a turn picking how Dad would be remembered. Cow in Kenya, tree planted somewhere, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 9:15 AM on December 10, 2014 [28 favorites]

We do Quaker grace before meals, we simply hold hands and have a moment of silence. You could precede this with a short statement about remembering those who can not be there.
posted by mareli at 9:17 AM on December 10, 2014

We do three things. One we light a candle. Two, we have a moment of silence. Three, we all tell a favorite story or memory. We generally will also pass around pictures of good times.
posted by 724A at 9:27 AM on December 10, 2014

My mother lights a candle Christmas morning on the mantel which she leaves burning all day in memory of my father. It's funny because it end up kind of feeling like he's there while we were unwrapping presents & having lunch. She just gets a simple pillar candle, but you could go as fancy as you wanted or get a nice electric one so you don't have to worry about it going out. She also just lights it quietly herself but you could make it as much of a ritual as you want.
posted by wwax at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2014 [17 favorites]

I am Jewish and love the tradition of lighting a yearly candle. Skip the religion, use a beautiful flagrant candle like one made from actual bayberries and talk about him. I'd do it shortly before serving the meal.
posted by bearwife at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might be interested in reading about the Jewish tradition of Yahrzeit candles, which are traditionally lit on the anniversary of a person's death. They are lit at sunset the night before and are intended to burn until sunset the following day. I'm not a religious believer myself and my father is not a particularly observant Jew, but I am always touched by the way he quietly remembers to light these candles in memory of his parents.

I find that the candle manages to be a constant but unobtrusive reminder of the significance of the day that naturally brings up memories, without having a moment set aside where everyone is asked to "perform" by reciting a memory or anecdote they've selected for the occasion (which can be uncomfortable for some people.) You could place a photo album or an LCD picture frame with a slideshow of pictures next to the candle if you want to encourage spontaneous conversation and reminiscence, or just let it stand by itself as a quiet reminder.
posted by contraption at 11:07 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Plant a tree with your kids every year. Make it part of your Thanksgiving celebrations if you can. Every tree you plant will be a lasting tribute to both your late husband and to your shared memories of him. If you have no place to plant them, arrange with a local park or nature preserve to purchase a tree to have them plant one in his name (they may want to actively manage their trees).
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:27 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am very sorry for your loss. Its hard any day, but especially during special family centered holidays.

My family has a Christmas glockenspiel (like this one). We light it, and take a moment to name and remember something nice about all of our loved ones that have passed away (grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, friends), and then have a moment of silence. More than just a regular candle, watching the vanes move in the heat of the candle is very calming and soothing. Once we're done with our moment of silence, we blow out the candles - this 'job' has been given to the youngest members of the family, my brother's kids.

That's our family's tradition to honour the deceased at Christmas. The glockenspiel we have has an angel on it, which is pretty obvious Christian symbolism, but I have seen them with just stars and the like on top. Some are metal, some wooden, some very basic, some very, very elaborate - but then again, I live in a city with a large German cultural heritage.
posted by sandraregina at 11:40 AM on December 10, 2014

My mom died several years ago, but now that I'm a mother myself for the first time this year, I find myself missing her more keenly and wanting somehow to include her in my family traditions. Yesterday, I bought an interesting angel ornament and I plan to get a different one every year from now on, as a way to make the years as they add up feel like they are building a tradition rather than making her farther away from me.
posted by missjenny at 11:48 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another suggestion for Yahrzeit candles, and more specifically for this prayer used by a synagogue that some of my family members attend. As an atheist, I find it particularly nice, and I imagine it would work for almost anyone:

AN INDIVIDUAL SAYS: At this moment, I pause for thought in memory of my beloved
_________. I give thanks for the blessing of life, of companionship, and of memory. I am grateful for the strength and faith that sustained me in the hour of my bereavement. Though sorrow lingers, I have learned that love is stronger than death. Though my loved one is beyond my sight, I do not despair, for I sense my beloved in my heart as a living presence.

A GROUP SAYS: At this moment, in memory of our beloved_______, we join hands in
love and remembrance. A link has been broken in the chain that had bound us together, yet strong bonds of home and love hold us each to the other. We give thanks for the blessing of life, of companionship, and of memory. We are grateful for the strength and faith that sustained us in the hour of our bereavement. Though sorrow lingers, we have learned that love is stronger than death. Though our loved one is beyond our sight, we do not despair, for we sense our beloved in our hearts as a living presence.

GROUP AND INDIVIDUALS SAY.ยท Sustained by words of faith, comforted by precious
memories, I (we) kindle the Yahrzeit light in remembrance. As this light burns pure and clear, so may the blessed memory of the goodness of my (our) dear ______ illumine my soul (our souls).
posted by juliapangolin at 12:26 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A few years ago my friend started a dinner tradition on the anniversary of her father's death. Because she knew he would hate to think of her sitting around being unhappy, she put on a nice outfit and went out and had a nice steak dinner, which she knew he would have enjoyed. Now on that day every year friends of hers across the country go out and have a steak in remembrance of her dad and their own loved ones who have passed.
posted by MsMolly at 12:27 PM on December 10, 2014

It is a Ukrainian tradition, on Christmas Eve dinner, to leave an empty place setting at the table in honor of deceased family, friends, and ancestors. I'm know that some other cultures do this too.

(If the dinner table is really full with lots of people, as often happens, we sometimes put the empty place setting on a sideboard or somewhere else in the room.)

It is a very visible reminder, but also a simple and unobtrusive one. I does not require any prayer or ceremony if you don't want it, apart from the first Christmas when you'd have to mention what it's all about. But otherwise the place setting is just something that's there every year, and lets each person pause and think/remember in their own way, when they see it. And it can apply to other lost loved ones, not just your husband.

I suppose it could seem a bit creepy if you're not used to it, but to me it's always been a a very comforting reminder.
posted by Kabanos at 12:39 PM on December 10, 2014

I'm so sorry for your loss.

My father passed away when my brother and I were young adults. It's been quite awhile now and while we never created any traditions in his memory, I personally *really* like the ideas here about lighting a candle...and for whatever's it's worth, whatever memorial tradition you decide to start, I just wanted to say that I wish my family had started something like that.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest the empty place setting (which has a double meaning this year as something people were doing on Thanksgiving as a reminder of all the young black men killed by police). Another option--if you drink--is to have everyone drink a toast to your lost loved one, with one extra glass standing in for them.

Pouring out the extra drink later, perhaps right before everyone goes to bed, can also be imbued with meaning--saying goodbye until next year, perhaps. Maybe even use a special glass that doesn't get used for any other purpose, which helps build into a tradition and becomes a focus for any/everyone you'd like to remember each year.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:25 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for some awesome answers. I think I will use more than one: for sure a donation to some of his favorite organizations will help us and I also like the idea of a candle burning all day long, to symbolize his presence among us.
posted by francesca too at 9:32 AM on December 11, 2014

I made time capsules with themes to open up periodically. Things nearby now are fresh. In a few years, your memory won't be. It's a vivid multimedia document....

Car keys, tools, favorite reading materials, a hat, (in my case) some yellow inflatable boot forms that still hold her ancient breath, drug bottles, a comb with hairs, little things written, loved, touched, hated, the stuff of every day. Maybe some journaling to yourself about what you're feeling, what was said, what the kids were doing, what you think the future holds.

Tupperware, a closet, a schedule...all you need. Touch them, think about them, share them, give them away to the participants. I have no participants.. you do. Would be a sweet ongoing remembrance, I think?
posted by FauxScot at 9:21 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wanted to let you know that we used this poem

Four Candles for You
by Unknown

The first candle represents our grief.
The pain of losing you is intense.
It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

This second candle represents our courage.
To confront our sorrow,
To comfort each other,
To change our lives.

This third candle we light in your memory.
For the times we laughed,
The times we cried,
The times we were angry with each other,
The silly things you did,
The caring and joy you gave us.

This fourth candle we light for our love.
We light this candle that your light will always shine.
As we enter this holiday season and share this night of remembrance
with our family and friends.

We cherish the special place in our hearts
that will always be reserved for you.
We thank you for the gift
your living brought to each of us.

We love you.
We remember you.

We also bought special candle holders from this Etsy shop
posted by francesca too at 3:12 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

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