TIPS ON Coping with grief at Kirihimete

It’s that time of year again, where excitement is building, and plans are being made for Kirihimete get-togethers and celebrations. It’s a wonderful time for many, with the opportunity to have a holiday and reconnect with whānau and friends. 


But for those of us that have experienced the death of a precious loved one - a son or daughter, māmā or pāpā, brother or sister, or someone very close and cherished - Kirihimete can be a challenging and exceptionally difficult time. 

Dealing with grief at Kirihimete

When faced with a constant barrage of collective joy and celebration, it can be especially hard to manage emotionally when someone precious is missing. It may be hard to put on a brave face and participate in parties and social gatherings. At this time, feelings of isolation, loneliness and loss can be exacerbated. Participating in these activities can make you feel very alone in your grief.  

Lorna Wood, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist for Kenzie’s Gift says: 

“Coping with grief at Kirihimete is particularly hard, as it’s different from other milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Kirihimete is a public and collective celebration, with a focus on festivities, parties, present buying and giving. In the shops, on TV and radio there is music playing, songs being sung, shows and movies about happy whānau get- togethers with aroha all around. There is no escaping it. 

“So, if you’re struggling with the death of a loved one this Kirihimete, know that you are not alone. It can be an emotionally challenging time for everyone in the whānau, and each of you will have different ways of grieving. With this in mind, it’s important to try and be sensitive to everyone’s needs. 

“Before Kirihimete comes around, it helps to plan ahead and have a chat as a whānau about what you would like to do together and individually. Think about things that will be manageable, make time to reminisce. Think about achievable goals. Perhaps reduce your expectations about what the season will be like. 

“For tamariki, give them permission to look forward to and enjoy the day itself, and at the same time make space to remember that someone is missing, and that it’s natural to miss them. 

“Kirihimete may always be hard, but there are some things that you can do to make it that little bit more bearable for you and your whānau. Sadness and happiness don’t cancel each other out and you can feel both. It’s ok to be sad and to enjoy different parts of the Kirihimete season. We’ve put together our 12 days of Kirihimete; a list of things you can try that will hopefully help you through the festive season.” 

How to cope with 12 days of Kirihimete grief


There’s no right or wrong way to do Kirihimete when living with grief. Anticipation can sometimes be harder than the actual day. First and foremost, look after you by attending to the basics: eat well, drink sensibly, exercise and rest. 



Make plans as a whānau, but also give yourselves permission to change your minds, and most importantly, be gentle and kind to yourselves. 

This may include deciding not to do Kirihimete this year, or giving yourselves permission not to do the things that feel too hard: writing cards, attending parties, putting up the tree, etc. 

Do things your way and be guided by what feels right for your whānau. Give yourself permission to do this, and let people know this might happen. 


“Thank you for the invitation. We do find Christmas hard, so if we’re finding it tough on Christmas Day, please don't be offended if I message to say we can’t come. If it’s too challenging for us, we might decide to spend the day alone as a family.” 

If you need to cancel a Kirihimete or party invitation because it feels too hard that day, cancel it. 



Talk as a whānau to understand how everyone is feeling. 


Some families find it helpful to continue their established Kirihimete traditions. Others might choose to create something new that incorporates memories of their loved one, like making their favourite dish; making or buying a special decoration for the tree; framing treasured pictures of them; or incorporating their favourite Kirihimete activity, game, music or film into the day. 


Tamariki particularly like to have the person’s favourite lollies on special days. 


An idea is to have a stocking where friends and whānau can put 'memories' of their loved one in. Have pens and paper available where you can encourage guests on the lead up to and on Kirihimete to write their memories, moments that made them think of/miss your loved one, or words of encouragement and appreciation to other whānau members which can be read on Christmas day. 



Talk with those you’ll be spending Kirihimete with. 

To avoid the ‘elephant in the room,’ it’s a good idea to let others know your thoughts, ideas and plans for the day. For example: 

Do you want to include some time to do a tribute to your loved one, like: 

· Sharing a special message.

· Sharing a memorial gift.

· Giving gifts of remembrance for your guests to take home.

Having a plan may help.



Create opportunities for tamariki to experience joy and laughter during Kirihimete while remembering their loved one. 

Tamariki may find it hard to talk about their loved one and how they are feeling. Perhaps setting up a memorial corner, or tent, a quiet place they can go if they’d like, with photos, notepaper, pens, boxes, craft materials, etc., where they can write and post messages in a memory box. 

You could also include some of their loved one’s favourite things (like lollies, photos, trinkets) so they can add to their memory boxes if they’d like. There is no expectations or pressure for them to use it, but the opportunity is there if they want to. 



Mark the memory of the person that has died by doing something special. 

This could be visiting a place that was special to them, lighting a candle, or creating a memorial photo album. It may be visiting their grave or the place where their ashes are scattered and placing a Kirihimete card or memorial candle there for them. 



Request special messages for the Kirihimete tree. 

Ask friends and whānau to write special messages to your loved one to hang on the Kirihimete tree. 

You could also write a message to hang on the tree or a letter to your loved one. 

As a whānau, on a trip to your favourite beach, or your loved one’s favourite beach, you could write a letter in the sand to them or make a beach memorial. 



Buy a special gift at Kirihimete. 

Buy a gift for yourself from the person who died or buy a present for someone in their memory. 

You could also donate your time or money to honour the person who died. 



Create a music playlist of your loved one's favourite Kirihimete songs. 

You could begin a new whānau tradition of singing their favourite song at Kirihimete or compose a song in their memory. 


DAY 10

If you’re hosting Kirihimete at your home, you could ask guests to share their Kirihimete memories of your loved one: 

· What was the worst or best present they ever gave you? 

· What’s the silliest / funniest thing you remember about them? 

How about creating a memory tablecloth with guests, where each guest writes their favourite memory about your loved one on a tablecloth. All you need is a table cloth, sharpies and wonderful memories. 


DAY 11

Rituals don’t have to be big, but it can help to do something as a whānau that everyone understands is a way of including the person who has died. For example: 

· Taking flowers and dropping them into a stream or the sea close to home. 

· Buying takeaway coffees and heading out to a favourite place. 

· Donating a present to a local charity that would be appreciated by a taitamaiti (child) the same age. 

· Blow bubbles with young tamariki - ‘blowing kisses to mummy…’ 


DAY 12

Make this your day. You are special. Do what you feel is right for you and your whānau. Be around people you want to spend time with. Maybe light a Kirihimete candle for your loved one and let their light shine. 

We’re only limited by our imagination and creativity. There is no right or wrong. 

If you need extra support this Kirihimete, please reach out to the Kenzie’s Gift team at: