It is a simple Finnish prayer, but it means the world to Dr. Kathrine Daniels every year when her family gathers for the holidays. She says the prayer before the meal.
“My grandmother was from Finland and she taught us a Finnish grace that we said before our meals,” Daniels said. “On holidays, we say a Finnish grace and it reminds us of her and keeps her present with us.”
Daniels is an expert in counseling families in loss (www.familylossandgriefexperts.com). She recommends that families embrace their own ways to honor memories of their loved ones who are no longer with them.
“Within our culture there is a myth about closure,” Daniels said. “The myth is that once a person is gone, we should grieve them and be done with it.”
The reality is that people should find ways to “continue their connection” with those who have passed on, Daniels said.
“We need to honor our relationships with them as they are still a part of us,” she said.
Finding ways to honor the memory of a family member who is deceased varies from family to family. In her practice, Daniels helps customize ways for families to best remember their loved ones during the busy holiday season.
She shared a few general tips:
- “Take time during a family celebration to let each person tell a favorite story about the person who has passed on,” she said.
- “I really like the idea of lighting a candle for that person,” Daniels said. “Or have special flowers at the table in honor of that person.”
- “Create something like a rock garden, where each person brings a rock and then offers a thought about their lost loved one when they place it with the other rocks,” she suggested.
- “Find a way to celebrate something that was special to that person in their life,” Daniels said. “If family was so important to Grandma, you might start a family reunion knowing that getting together as a family would have made her happy and continue the connection to her. Or start a volunteer project for a charity that the person favored.”
- On a simpler note, Daniels says picking a recipe that was one of a lost loved one’s favorite dishes during the holidays while they were still alive.
- If the lost loved one had a favorite color or always wore a hat, Daniels says the entire family could wear that color, or everyone could wear a silly or favorite hat.
“There are so many ideas that it’s just countless,” Daniels said. “You can tailor what you do for each specific family and ask, ‘How can we make meaning based on who our family is and who they were in our family?’”
Children and older family members, who use elderly home care, should be an important part of any celebration that remembers family members, Daniels said.
“It’s not only a way of building connections through our generations, but also being a role model for our children for how to handle grief when they encounter loss,” she said. “Make them part of the whole family in that type of context.”
For those who feel overwhelmed by adding a new tradition, Daniels advises that simply putting out a favorite photograph can be a symbol of remembrance.
“When I go to my mom’s house, I see the Cupid my grandmother hung on Valentine’s Day every year that my mom now hangs up every year,” she said. “It’s something that is a reminder to the whole family of that loved one.”
Creating new rituals in the absence of a loved one can be powerful for families, said Daniels.
“In my private practice, I see how it really helps the families,” she said. “A lot of times those people are so missed and it’s a hole in the family. It can help you get through the holidays, instead of just suffering through them. Honoring them and the memories of them feels good because you love them.”