Shining a Light on Grief

By Donna Kane, MA, CT

Holidays, even joyful ones like Hanukkah, can bring sadness when we feel the absence of people who were part of our past celebrations but are not with us now. Children often feel that sense of loss – whether it is from the death of a family member, friend, teacher, or beloved pet – though they may not always know how to name it. In fact, children do not have the ability to reconcile a loss until their mid-20s. 

Family and friends can help children reduce feelings of sadness or grief by taking time to talk about the people who cannot be part of the celebration.   

During Hanukkah, one option is to use your candle lighting time to shine a light on special people who have died, honoring them by dedicating a candle to them. If you know their favorite color or if a color reminds your child of a certain person, pick a candle that color to represent them and share some wonderful memories.    

Here are some additional suggestions for helping your child understand and process grief and sadness during the holidays:  

  • Prepare your child for what they will experience during the holidays and in other family rituals due to the absence of a loved one. In addition, they should never be forced to be present or participate.  
  • Acknowledge that the holidays are hard for anyone experiencing grief. There is no timeline for grief. It will change over time, but the holidays may remain difficult and there is nothing to be ashamed of.  
  • If you are sharing in the grief, express how you are processing it during the holidays. This can have a profound effect on your child’s development, especially because, as grief is chaotic and can impact a child even during happy occasions such as Hanukkah, they will feel less alone by hearing what you yourself are going through.   
  • Help your child learn to manage a difficult and inevitable part of life by responding to their thoughts, feelings, and actions in a sensitive and informed manner. This builds a foundation of trust between you and will offer guidance for them to manage hard events that will occur in other moments of their lives.   

If your child is missing someone special this Hanukkah season, check out A Shining Light. This JCS program will help your child feel connected to those they love and are not able to be with this holiday. For the activity, you will need a menorah and candles. A beeswax candle making kit can be purchased from shops like Amazon, Etsy, or craft stores. Thank you to the Mitchell David Endowment Fund, the Zimmerman Fund for Children, and Mind in Motion for supporting this program.  

If you have questions or concerns about children and grief, please visit jcsbalt.org/grief or call 410-466-9200. 


Donna Kane, MA, CT, is a Grief Clinician at Jewish Community Services.

JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.   

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