How to handle grief during the holidays

As we approach the holidays, such special occasions can be painful and especially overwhelming for those who are still grieving the loss of a loved one.

After all, the celebrations and joy around may just be cruel reminders of their absence. We may feel guilty or conflicted about wanting to join in the holiday fun. Or we simply feel the pressure to put up a strong front in order not to dampen the holiday mood for others.

Grief is an extremely personal and unique journey for each of us. Accordingly, the holidays may be more painful for varying reasons. Even so, here are some helpful tips that can be generally applicable to those who are trying to cope with grief during the holidays.


1. Take time for yourself

Grief is a necessary step in our healing process. Though avoiding the pain may be a tempting option, it may end up prolonging your sorrow and grief. At the same time, there is also no need to put yourself in, particularly painful situations as that may cause greater emotional turmoil.

As such, you don’t have to feel obligated to attend every holiday event or to continue every holiday tradition you used to have if it brings back too many memories that are now painful. Finding some balance between engaging in the holidays and not pushing yourself too much is key.


2. Be kind to yourself

That said, some of us may feel a desire to have some semblance of normalcy or positivity during the holidays. We may wish to participate in the Christmas cheer or holiday fun but feel guilty for even thinking of doing so.

It is okay to have a good time during the holidays even when you are grieving. Your happiness is not an insult or injustice to your loved one so be kind to yourself and not berate yourself for experiencing even a sliver of joy. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to go about the holidays while you are still grieving.


3. Ask for help when you are struggling

It is important to seek support from those around you if you need it. Holidays can have an isolating effect if we find ourselves among those who are revelling in the joy of the season. Or we may find ourselves without plans for the holidays because of the recent loss.

If the people around you are also trying to cope with the same loss or are themselves immersed in holiday affairs, you can reach out to grief communities online and in-person for support. It is likely that they are feeling similar emotions and need emotional support—just like you.


4. Find a way to honour your loved one

It can be helpful to find a way to memorialize your loved one during the holidays. This is a positive and gentle way to keep their memory present without triggering too many negative emotions.

This could be doing something that they often did, eating their favourite food, or reminiscing on good memories with them. It is also possible to continue an old tradition that the person started or particularly enjoyed if it helps you to think of him or her in a positive light.


5. Plan ahead

The holidays can bring about a wide range of emotions. Because this can be very overwhelming, some of us may end up dealing with many unexpected emotions and thoughts. This can have a paralyzing effect on us.

As such, it is always good if we think ahead. Look out for events or traditions that may trigger excessive memories, know who you will contact if you are struggling, and mentally prepare yourself to feel all the emotions that the holidays may bring. Preparing ahead helps you to respond in a measured way and allows you to tide through whatever emotions and thoughts without too much upheaval.


Ultimately, the season of joy is not always as jolly as we want it to be. Whether it is pain, guilt, or stress, allow yourself to feel those emotions without any judgment. After all, it is only by understanding and acknowledging our feelings that we can devise strong coping methods in a season that can be particularly painful for any of us.


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