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Grief in the Holidays

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

When we’re grieving the loss of a loved one, the holiday season can be difficult to navigate.

The holidays are laden with nostalgia, prompting us to reflect on memories of holidays past. While many recollections of our loved ones are positive or joyful, we may also be grieving a complicated relationship where the resulting memories are harder to process.

The felt absence of our loved ones can be palpable during this time of year. And, our resulting grief reactions are likely stronger and more prominent.

I’m often asked about coping with grief during the holidays, so I’ve provided a few gentle reminders in this post that I hope bring a little comfort and hope.

Remember…no two people experience grief in the same way, so how we each cope with our losses during the holidays will be unique. Some of the items on the list below will help you, while others may not. Take the suggestions that resonate deeply with your heart and disregard the rest. Finding new rhythms of support while permitting yourself to move away from tips that may not be helpful is an essential part of your grief journey.

Gentle Reminders about Grief During the Holidays

Be patient with yourself. Mourning is hard work, especially during this season. You are displaying extraordinary courage by simply showing up for yourself and others each day.

Be patient with others. It is helpful to acknowledge and appreciate that each member of your family will process their grief differently this season, and that is okay. One person may want to participate in (or avoid) a specific activity while the rest of the family may find comfort in it. It’s essential to display respect and patience, allowing each individual to process their grief in unique and personal ways.

Openly acknowledge and express your loss and grief. Families often tiptoe around the reality of loss during a holiday. Instead, it can be helpful to openly acknowledge that this season will inevitably be different without your loved one. You may not feel like celebrating. You may be more emotional or short-tempered. Yet, you may also be willing to try new things and identify strengths and capacities within yourself you never before realized.

Openly communicate your preferences (and encourage your family members to do the same). There may be a holiday tradition you don’t feel like continuing this year or another new tradition (perhaps to honor your loved one) that you want to begin. Your family members (especially children) may have specific ideas about holiday rituals or how to spend the season, so an honest dialogue will help ensure everyone’s grief is acknowledged. Remember, just because you choose to do something different (or the same) this holiday does not mean you have to repeat it again next year.

Be present in the moments of the holiday season. Let yourself feel and express your emotions, including the inevitable waves of grief. You do not need to hide your tears…or your unexpected laughter when it occurs. Allow yourself to feel joy and hope when it sneaks in amid your grief. Don’t feel obligated to carry regret or shame when you invite moments of happiness into your life (even in the heaviest moments of your grief). This is the work of reconciliation…and it is essential to healing.

Extend yourself grace over guilt. If you don’t feel like doing certain things during the holidays, it’s okay! Give yourself permission to forgo sending holiday cards if it feels like too much effort. If you need to decline an invitation because a gathering will deplete your energy, provide yourself grace in doing so. If you inevitably upset someone (or even yourself) with a decision you make this holiday season, forgive yourself. You’re doing the best you can amid extraordinary circumstances of grief and loss.

Ask for help. Do you need help decorating your house, buying gifts, or planning a meal? Do you need to speak with a grief counselor or attend a support group? Humans were created for connection. It is essential to reach out to others when life gets challenging.

Spend time with people who uplift your spirits and bring you hope. Limit encounters with those who upset you or bring unnecessary stress and chaos into your life. Boundaries are important, especially during grief.

Remember your loss. Consider a way to honor or memorialize your loved one during the holiday season. You may want to light a special candle at the table, donate to a charity in your loved one’s memory, make their favorite dish for family dinner, visit the cemetery, engage in an activity your loved one enjoyed, display a cherished photograph, or create a gift box filled with notes of holiday memories.

My dear readers, whether this is your first, fifth, or tenth holiday season without your loved one, please accept this post as permission to openly acknowledge your loss and honor your grief this holiday season. Take time to remember your loved one, including reflecting on the blessings and gifts they brought into your life that you carry forward with you.

It is healing to mourn your losses during the holidays while also inviting hope, love, joy, wonder, and peace into your hearts and homes this season.

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