Coping With Holiday Grief

by | Dec 12, 2017

To many the holidays are a time of joy, celebration and tradition, a time to be shared with loved ones. To others the holidays are bittersweet, awash with feelings of loss and grief. As we are surrounded by the nostalgia of the holidays, to those of us who have experienced a loss, our longing and grief for a loved one may deepen and dampen our holiday spirit. The holidays can also serve as a reminder of how much our lives have been changed by the loss of our loved one, especially when the memories of our loved ones surround our holiday tradition. So how can we cope with and honor our feelings of grief and loss and still share in the celebration of the holidays?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one true cure for coping with holiday grief. But there are some strategies you can try to help you cope with your feelings of grief during the holidays. I have compiled a few here that may just help you and your family through this holiday season. Please feel free to comment below with strategies that have worked in the past for you or how you plan to cope with your grief this year.

Set realistic expectations. Acknowledge that the holidays can be difficult and that you may not be able to handle the responsibilities and expectations you have set for yourself in the past.  Communicate your plans with others and let them know what you do and don’t want to do this holiday season. Prioritize the events, parties and dinners that are important to you, over commitment and added stress will not make getting through the holidays any easier.

Create a New Tradition in Honor of a Loved One.  The traditions of the past may not suit your new normal. Decide which traditions you want to keep, want to change and want to do away with. Place a lighted candle somewhere special in your home, display photos of your loved one at holiday gatherings, leave an empty seat at the dinner table, make and hang an ornament of remembrance on your tree, or make your loved one’s favorite dish or meal. Visit your loved one’s grave and leave a token of remembrance, attend a holiday remembrance service, have a moment of silence or toast your loved one. Honoring their memory during the holidays will help make them feel a part of the tradition, even in their absence.

Help Others. Spreading joy to others in need is an excellent way to bring joy to your heart during the holiday season. Volunteer at a shelter, donate to a charity, food bank or holiday hamper in your loved one’s name. Spend time or share a meal with someone who is often alone during the holidays, or donate altar flowers or holiday decorations to your place of worship in memory of your loved one.

Make Time for Yourself. During the holiday hustle and bustle we are often so busy caring for the needs of others that we often forget to care for our own. Practice self care, have a bubble bath, journal your feelings, meditate, listen to music, or splurge on a gift for yourself. Decide what you need, and set aside that time for you, and most importantly do not feel guilty for taking that time.

Reach Out. We often take on too much and forget to reach out to others when we are in need. Our need for support can be at its greatest during the holidays. Identify the people who will help and support you through the holidays and lean on them. Ask a friend or family member for help cooking, cleaning, decorating, or shopping. Allow others to shoulder your grief this holiday season, speak to a counselor, attend a grief group and speak to others who are struggling with grief.

Remember, that it is okay to be happy and feel joy and celebrate the holiday season. We can easily be caught up in feelings of guilt, shame and fear that others will judge us if we do not live up to their expectation of the way we “should” grieve after a loss. Allowing yourself to feel joy and happiness does not take away from how much you miss and love the person who is absent this holiday. Remember most of all that it is okay to not be okay. Take a step back; perhaps skipping the holiday all together is what you need the most, but I would caution against this extreme. I suggest simplifying your holiday and making time for those that can provide you with the love and support you need this holiday season.