Don’t Say “Happy New Year” after a Death

Do I wish my grieving friends “Happy New Year?” There are more helpful things to say, depending on how long it has been since their loved ones died.

If your friend’s loss is recent (and by “recent” I mean within a year or even up to 15 months), then no. “Happy New Year” is probably not the right thing to say in the first year (or two), even though you do wish your friend to be happy. Grief is not a happy feeling, but when it is new and raw it is the feeling your friend needs acknowledged. More thoughtful responses will be better received. Some things I appreciated hearing as a “new” widow of three months:

  • “I wish you well in the year ahead.”
  • “I know it is difficult starting this new year without him. I miss him, too.”
  • “Would you like to talk about how you two usually celebrated New Year’s Eve together?”
  • “We’d love to have you welcome in the new year among friends. Would you like to join us?”
  • “I’m sorry he isn’t here to begin this year with you.”
  • “You’re in my thoughts this New Year’s Eve. I know it isn’t the same.”

If the loss is more recent, the bereaved may not want to be included in “party” atmospheres — they are hurting too much to celebrate — but it is essential to invite them! Whether they accept your invitations or not, it is better for grieving souls to turn down a dozen invitations to social gatherings than not to receive them at all. Even if they repeatedly refuse your invitations, KEEP ASKING.

As the world celebrates moving forward from one year’s date to the next, those mourning the loss of loved ones who died in the “old” year face the devastating reality that their dear ones will never “touch” the new year. Even those who have already spent nearly a year adjusting to their changed lives will face a new 365-day period of acknowledging their lack. For weeks, maybe months, every time a widowed spouse pens the year onto a check or a parent-bereft child painstakingly pencils the date on a school assignment, a grieving soul feels the “betrayal” of hand and tool writing a time their loved ones will not experience with them.

If your friend’s loss struck longer ago (and by “longer ago” I mean at least a year or more), then “Happy New Year” may be a welcome greeting. If your friend is moving forward,  taking steps geared toward the future, finding joy and fulfillment in life again, then by all means say “Happy New Year!” But be sensitive to how your friend is really feeling. Some who mourn lost loved ones may “look” like they’re “doing better” through the holidays — at least in public — but even those who’ve “gotten used to” their losses find holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries to be difficult times.

14 thoughts on “Don’t Say “Happy New Year” after a Death

  1. […] For more on what to say (and what NOT to say) to the newly bereaved heading into the new year, see Don’t Say “Happy New Year” after a Death. […]


  2. Thank you. I was trying to find a thoughtful message for a New Year’s e-card for my family, esp. my sister, who lost her husband in August. But I had not even thought about the sadness of knowing he will not see 2018. I appreciate this new perspective. I think I can live without sending any e-cards at all this year. I appreciate your sensitivity. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind words, Janet. I’m sorry about the recent loss of your brother-in-law. It might be appropriate to send a personal message instead of a card simply stating your love for your sister and that she’s in your thoughts. It’s wonderful that she has your thoughtful support.


  3. I have a friend of mine who lost a grandma recently & not realizing the same I sent her New Year wishes like i otherwise do.. Although she replied normally I feel concerned shall I appologize in case she might have felt disliked..
    Regards Sydney

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Eva Rose Maria Tafolo

    I beg to differ.I lost my husband to cancer in April after 41 years of marriage.I’m really hoping NOT to be invited to any New Years Eve parties.Christmas was bearable, but to see happy, drunk family and friends all joyously kiss and hug their respective wives/husbands/partners when the clock strikes midnight while I’m standing there awkwardly on my own is an unbearably awful thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to face this New Year’s Eve without him after so many celebrated together. I do understand how the thought of watching other couples embrace the new year together feels painful. This will be my 11th widowed New Year’s Eve, and I can still remember how raw the first few felt. I also couldn’t bear the concept of attending parties (or even small gatherings). Not at all. However, I was grateful for a few friends who reached out to me. They let me know they cared about me enough to include me. (They also respected my decisions to decline.)


  5. What to say to a grieving mom on New Year who lost one of her sons this year just in July? He was a young guy 47 he was. I feel for this lady. I wqas attracted to her son and she just recently knew about it. But she was so devastated her son died just so soon and recently. What to say to her in this New Year?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your compassion and awareness of her loss, Maria. Please let her know you are aware that this New Year will be different for her and that you are thinking of her. A parent’s grief is deep and life-altering. Grief follows folks into the year ahead. (And I am sorry for your loss of the friend you were attracted to.)


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