Grief During the Holidays

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sad girl sitting at home window on Christmas struggling with grief during the holidays
Published:  December 6, 2022

The holidays are a time to be with the people we love the most, which is why it can be so difficult to get through the holidays when someone you love has recently passed away. Many people find it especially difficult to handle grief during the holidays because they miss their loved ones even more than usual.

Difficulty Celebrating

Celebrating is sometimes extremely difficult when you have lost a person who is special to you. Oftentimes the holiday seems to only magnify the loss and grief. The sadness you may experience often feels even worse and deeper during the holidays. You may find that additional support is needed just to get through the festive season. While some people may try to pretend they are not grieving, the holidays are often more difficult to manage than the rest of the year.

Instead of avoiding the grief you are undoubtedly feeling, lean into those feelings. Grief is not necessarily what you need to avoid; it is the pain that accompanies the grief that you want to manage.  Experiencing and managing grief can help lessen the pain.  There are several ways that you can incorporate your loved one into the holidays, even though they cannot physically be with you.

Grieving During Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year

These specific holidays tend to be the most challenging for people who are grieving. Do Try to avoid “covering up” your grief. Use the grief to help manage the pain. Grief refers to the feelings you have inside. Mourning, on the other hand, is how you express those feelings. Here are several ways you can mourn and externalize your loss to cope during the holiday season:

Coping with Grief

  • Create an online tribute landing page for your loved one and share it with the people in your life.
  • Before a holiday dinner, say a prayer for or about your loved one.
  • Share a favorite memory or story about your loved one.
  • Light a candle in memory of your loved one.
  • Ask everyone to tell a lighthearted or funny story about your loved one.
  • When at your place of worship, remember them in your prayers.
  • Talk to people about your loved one, whether in person or virtually.
  • Try to remain involved in the holidays, especially if you often celebrate with many people and have traditions that are usually carried out.

For many, the routine of celebrating the holidays is a comfort. When you question what to do with your time, let the framework of holiday events guide you. When dealing with intense grief during the holidays, it helps to have an initial plan and a backup plan. For example, Plan A may include attending Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. Plan B may include watching a movie that you and your loved one enjoyed, instead of attending Thanksgiving dinner. Or, leaving Thanksgiving dinner early to participate in Plan B may be the right plan for you. For many people, simply knowing they have an alternative option is enough to give them the strength to make it through Plan A.

Consider New Ways to Celebrate

Create a new routine or tradition. Depending on who you lost, old traditions may cause too much pain. Use your grief to find new ways to celebrate and create new routines. Evaluate the parts of the holiday that you love and the parts that do not make you feel good right now. You can either change the tradition permanently or allow it to be temporary and attempt to revert to previous routines next year.

Celebrate When You Are Ready

You can opt to cancel the holiday altogether for yourself. This is absolutely an option that you can choose if needed. If you find yourself trying to enjoy the holidays but still not feeling anything other than grief, it may help to “cancel” the holidays this year. Next year, you will have another opportunity to enjoy them. Instead of celebrating the holidays, find activities that will make you feel comforted during this time. You may feel like you will never enjoy the holidays again – this is natural. Many people who are grieving feel this way. While the holidays may never be the same as they once were, most people find that they eventually begin enjoying the holiday season again.

There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays while grieving. Decide what feels best for you. If you need to try something new and then change your mind halfway through the season, that is fine too. Your loved ones should support your decisions.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to honor a spouse, significant other, or romantic partner. If you have experienced such a loss, you may feel as if a piece of your heart is missing. To express grief in a helpful way, consider the following:

  • Write a love letter to your significant other.
  • Make a point to smile for them.
  • Light a red candle in their memory.
  • Tell someone about your loved one.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

For many people who have recently lost a parent or child, Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day can often be a challenging time of reflection and mourning. Here are a few tips for grieving:

  • Light a candle for your loved one.
  • Say a prayer.
  • Donate your money or time in their name.
  • Participate in an activity that you previously experienced with your parent or child.

Dos and Don’ts of Celebrating the Holidays While Grieving

  • Do be sensitive with yourself and treat yourself gently.
  • Do allow yourself to grieve and experience sad feelings.
  • Do let other people help you. Everyone needs help at times throughout their life.
  • Do give children extra attention. Some people forget that children grieve, too.
  • Don’t push yourself to do more than you want.
  • Don’t do anything that does not help you cope with your loss.
  • Don’t keep everything you are feeling bottled up.
  • Don’t ask if you can help another person who may be grieving, just do it.

Be Kind to Yourself

Holidays can be incredibly difficult following a loss. Managing the holidays will be a personal experience – people grieve in many ways. Be gentle with yourself, seek out things that will make you feel better, and keep your loved one in your thoughts.

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