Coping with Grief at the Holidays

Holy Trinity

Emily A. Pattee MSW, LCSW
Hospice Social Worker/Bereavement Coordinator
Holy Trinity Hospice

For many of us the holidays are a time of celebration, joy, and fun. However those who have experienced loss can have feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, and emptiness. Loss can be the death of a loved one but it can come in other forms such as loss of physical ability, absence of a loved one, or loss of traditions that once defined a holiday celebration. Grief can be explained as the emotional result of the pain one experiences because of loss.

The holidays can be some of the toughest times after loss. When someone is grieving the holidays can be quite an overwhelming and difficult time. While you may wish that you could ignore the holidays and avoid them all together it is virtually impossible. Where ever you go there are holiday decorations. The television and radio are filled with holiday shows and music. One must voyage through the holidays as part of the grief journey.

It is important to know that there is no right or wrong way to approach the holidays when you are grieving. The ways we handle the holidays are as individual as we are, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It isn’t unusual for well intentioned people to imply pressure on how the holidays “should” be handled; advice may be well intentioned only the individual can know what feels right.

While there is nothing that will take away grief, there are things that can be done to help alleviate the weight of grief throughout the holiday season.

Share Your Feelings

Make sure to allow time to express feelings. Overbooking yourself to avoid feelings doesn’t work and can lead to unpredictable emotional outbursts. Sharing your feelings can help set a safe atmosphere for others to share too; others may be feeling similarly but aren’t sure how to bring it up.

Tell People What You Need
If you don’t share what you need family and friends will make assumptions. Assumptions can lead to poor communication and hurt feelings. While it would be nice, we can’t expect others to know what we need since we all grieve in our own unique way.

Make Action Plans
It isn’t easy to know what we will need at the holidays but being caught off guard can make things harder. Try to anticipate your reactions to specific situations you may encounter throughout the holidays. Develop planned responses and actions, and allow yourself to change your plans.

Avoid Being Alone Most of the Time
The pain of loss can be exacerbated by loneliness and isolation. Too much alone time can allow thoughts to become overwhelming. Even if you aren’t feeling in a jovial mood, make an effort to simply stay connected with the people that care about you. However do make plans to have private time to process your thoughts and feelings, and have a good cry.


Take Care of Yourself
This can mean many different things for everyone. Take time to do the things that you enjoy and that fulfill you. Grieving is draining so be aware of your physical needs such a eating right and sleeping, these are simple things but they make a big difference in your well-being.

Balance Traditions and New Rituals
When we experience loss we are changed and so are the holidays. It is important to find a balance between long standing traditions and new rituals. It can be helpful to remember the loss of a loved one at holiday gathering with a candle lighting, a prayer, a song, or something that honors their memory.

Hopefully with some of these tips you can work to develop new ways to experience the holidays. It is natural to feel you may never fully enjoy the holidays again; however in time many are able to find a new meaning and a new form of holiday spirit.


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