Coping with Grief during the Holidays

When we’ve suffered a significant loss, special days and holidays may be even more difficult. It’s a tall order to feel like celebrating when we’re deeply saddened, working through our feelings, and tending to financial details.  We may feel isolated and alone, wondering if anyone has had the same experience of grief that we are currently experiencing.

Suggestions to Help Manage the Holidays

During these holiday months, memories may emerge without warning. We recall how our loved one did things, what they liked or disliked, and what role they fulfilled during these special days. Here are a few thoughts to help manage these special days.

  • Come as you are.  Remember that you are grieving and you will experience this season than you have ever before.
  • Ask yourself:  What do I need at this time? How do I want the holidays to be?  For example, do you need more quiet this year?  Do you wish to enjoy just one event and let the rest go?  Do you want to experience a heightened sense of hope for your future?  Take time to reflect on these questions.
  • Expect contradictory feelings.  You may miss your loved one and look forward to attending a holiday event with friends.
  • Plan ahead.  If you do holiday shopping, make a list ahead of time and then shop when you’re having a good day.
  • Rework cherished traditions.  Be creative with your traditions.  Adapt them to fit your current needs.  For example, visit a soup kitchen or find someone who won’t receive a visitor.
  • Be aware of expectations.  If you feel pressured to celebrate the way you always have, ask yourself:  Whose expectations are these, mine or someone else’s?  Sometimes our own expectations make the pain more acute.  Be realistic about what you can do.  If others are putting expectations on you, simply say, “Not this year.”  You can always return to old traditions another year.
  • Express your feelings.  Your grief won’t go away because it’s the holiday season.  Find a trustworthy person to share your feelings with.
  • Let the spiritual dimension of the holidays speak to you.  Pray, meditate, or simply sit in a room that brings you comfort and beauty.

A Few Practical Ideas for the Holiday Journey

  • Play music that is comforting and meaningful to you.
  • Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  • Create a quilt, scrapbook, poem, prose, picture, or collage using colors, symbols, or images that remind you of your loss.
  • Have a moment of silence at the holiday table as a toast to honor your loved one.
  • Write a poem about your loved one and read it during a holiday ritual.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite game or music.
  • Don’t be afraid to have fun.  Laughter and joy are not disrespectful.  Remember that many bereaved persons do enjoy the holidays again.
  • Plan for after the holidays.

May your upcoming days be healing.

St. Kates Picture 2
St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Photo JStanton.


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