Clinically reviewed by Kimberly D. Gray, LCSW.
For many people, the holidays are fun, happy times. But for those who’ve lost a loved one, this period can be difficult. In addition to death, many are dealing with divorce or other types of loss (job loss) that change holiday plans. Fortunately, there are steps and resources for coping with grief during the holiday season.
Tips for Coping with Grief During the Holidays
Everyone experiences loss differently. Still, most find that the actions below for coping with holiday grief help them feel less sadness and more joy during the holidays while still acknowledging that they miss their loved one.
Keep these tips in mind:
Don’t “cancel” the holidays.
It’s common to want to skip holiday celebrations after someone has died. There may be certain events or traditions that are too hard to continue this year, but you should continue with others, including spending time with family and friends.
Decide in advance how to handle the season.
There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to experience the holidays after a loved one has died. But it can make the season easier if you have a plan for what traditions to continue, discontinue, or start as a way of honoring your loved one.
Allow yourself to experience all your emotions.
It’s not good for you or those around you to “pause” your grief with the idea of returning to it after the holidays. Everyone who misses the person should feel free to experience their emotions fully. That includes joy. If people can find some happiness during the season, they shouldn’t hide or feel guilty about it. Your loved one would want everyone to be happy.
Have reasonable expectations for the holidays.
Despite your best efforts, the holidays probably will not feel like they have in the past. That’s understandable. Try to “lower the bar” a bit and be patient, knowing that each year will bring more perspective and a greater focus on happy memories of your loved one.
Draw strength and comfort from serving others.
If you can, do kind deeds for others during the holidays. Perhaps invite someone to join your celebration who might otherwise be alone. Or donate to a charity your loved one supported. Volunteer work is an excellent alternative to being alone.
Pay attention to your physical and mental health.
Be sure to eat well, stay physically active, and get plenty of sleep when coping with grief around the holidays — or at any time of year.
Consider getting additional support.
The love of family and friends will be very beneficial in coping with holiday grief. But don’t hesitate to seek other assistance if appropriate from a counselor or therapist, a spiritual leader, etc. They understand what you’re going through and want to help. So, don’t be reluctant to contact them out of concern that you’ll “bring them down.”
You can also seek out some special services around the holidays, such as a “Blue Christmas”. These services are geared towards those grieving during the holidays and help them reflect and accept.
Emerge from the Holidays Stronger Than Ever
It’s not easy coping with grief during the holiday season, but you can do it. And no matter how things go, you can look back later and be proud that you’re continuing to heal and move forward.
Be Especially Intentional About Your “Downtime”
Some of the most challenging times during the holidays after you’ve lost a loved one are those you spend alone. Get advice on Dealing with Loneliness During the Holidays on the Baptist Health blog.