Grief & Holidays: Ways to Ease the Pain
The holidays are filled with emotional landmines when a loved one passes. We hope these simple suggestions will help keep a loved one’s memory alive while holding space for a survivor’s grief.
Whether you lost a loved one recently or several years ago, it’s natural to long for them during the holidays. Family traditions, parties, songs, and even holiday decorating can trigger sadness, grief, and depression. It’s natural to feel a whirlwind of emotions: you want to make the holidays memorable (especially when you have young children or grandchildren), yet the idea of merry-making without your loved one feels unbearable.
There are no right or wrong approaches to grieving during the holidays. Instead, make the choices that feel right for you. And if you are the friend, partner, or family member of someone grieving, understand that they deserve to spend the holidays in the best way for them.
Carry On or Hide Away?
It’s tempting to want to skip the holiday season when you’re grieving. For some people, the idea of carrying on after a loved one’s death is overwhelming. Getting out of bed and dressed seems like a significant accomplishment, let alone attending a holiday dinner or party. Yet isolating increases depression and loneliness, with the added stress of grief, which can make the winter holidays seem unbearable.
A better coping mechanism might be a combination of downtime and purposeful encounters with friends and family. You also can choose to create new traditions to help ease the passage from grief toward healing. For example, if your late mother always made her famous lasagna on Christmas Eve, make one of your signature recipes instead (yes, takeout counts!).
Here are a few other suggestions to cope with grief during the holidays.
Share Your Feelings
You shouldn’t have to hide your grief. It helps to talk about it. Feeling angry, anxious, worried, and sad are normal emotions when you’ve lost a loved one. Talk to your best friend, a spiritual counselor, or a licensed mental health professional. Airing your feelings can make you feel less lonely.
Remember the Reason for the Season
No matter what faith you practice (if any), most people would agree that the winter holidays involve similar traits: charity, kindness, and peace. Think about what the season means to you, and if you like, attend a worship service or reach out to a faith leader. It’s also an excellent opportunity to share your loved one’s beliefs and traditions with children and grandchildren.
Grief is exhausting, and the faster pace of the holidays contributes to feeling worn out. Plus, many people who live in climates with reduced sunlight in the winter months suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. If you have a history of depression at the same time every year, talk to a medical professional about SAD treatment options, including phototherapy.
Take a Break from the Holidays
The holidays are intense: Christmas carols playing in every store, Santa Claus at the mall. Take a break and visit a local museum, national park, or public library. There are plenty of low-cost or free places to take your mind off the holidays.
If you have the energy and desire, help those in need over the holidays. Volunteering can be a positive outlet, whether stacking canned goods or collecting toys for children’s charities. You might be ready to donate your loved one’s belongings. Items like gently used overcoats and jackets are appreciated during the cold winter months.
This Too Shall Pass
The first holiday, birthday, and anniversary are tough to bear, and even years later, it’s normal to miss your partner, parent, sibling, or child on special occasions.
We hope you find it comforting to remember that the holidays arrive and depart just like any other date on the calendar. And while grief does not have a schedule or deadline, most people find that the raw feelings gradually subside. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel sad or depressed again. However, you are bolstered by the knowledge that you have faced hard times and come through all the stronger.