Coping With Grief And The Holidays
The holidays present their own set of challenges for someone who
is grieving. Being surrounded by parties and
holiday cheer can magnify the mourner's feelings of loss and
hopelessness when coping with grief and the holidays.
The traditions can be especially hard because the person who
once shared them is gone. Their absence is deeply felt as you look
around the table. There is either someone else sitting in their
place, or worse - an empty chair.
You may feel pulled in two opposite directions. Torn between
wanting to be happy and enjoy the holiday, but also despair and
loneliness. While everyone's grief journey is unique, most people
are glad they attended holiday events. You may not want to leave
your room, much less your home, but getting out among those who
love you can help.
The first year of milestones can be the most challenging. Don't
push yourself to do too much too soon. You don't have to replicate
every facet of your usual dinner, for example. Do what you can and
by all means, accept help! Not every piece of decoration needs to
be used every year. The best you can do is the best you can do.
The day will pass, whether you attend every party or just one.
You will reach January whether you send out 100 cards or none. Be
kind to yourself and know you are strong. You may not feel that way
right now, but you will look back and be amazed at how you have
survived this terrible pain and come through intact. Different,
sure. Forever changed? Absolutely. But you have survived, and
that's worth celebrating.
There is no magic formula for getting through the holidays when
you are grieving; however, below are a few helpful suggestions.
- Be open to new traditions. Going through the
motions of old traditions may be too much to take. It's okay to
eliminate some traditions - changing your routine (even just a
little bit) could be helpful.
- Acknowledge your loss. Pretending you are okay
will do more harm than good and it's likely the people around you
are also mourning. Talking about your grief helps you to move
- Find a balance. Trying to get through the
holidays alone can only intensify your loss. Force yourself to be
with the people who love you. There may be times where you want to
be alone and that's okay too.
- It's okay to cry. Crying is part of grieving
and trying to hold it back will do more harm than good. Oftentimes,
this reaction can scare your friends and family and you need them
now more than ever! Remind them crying is part of the grieving
- Let friends and family help. Tell them how
they can help you - let them run errands, help with the decorating,
baking and shopping. It may feel like you are imposing, but if they
are offering to help, letting them is helping them too. While they
can't make the grief go away, letting them help makes them feel
Children and grief during the holidays
Looking forward to the holiday season is a job for children of
all ages, but when a child is grieving, the holidays can be
especially difficult. Below are some strategies for helping
children with their grief during the holidays.
- Invite them to talk about the person who has
died. Oftentimes children will bury their feelings around
the holidays to protect the people they love. Sharing a holiday
memory could give them the permission they are looking for. Let
them know it's hard for everyone and being sad is okay.
- Mix new traditions in with the old ones. Is
there a new tradition you can try to incorporate into the holidays?
Can you volunteer to help others? It can be something as simple as
baking cookies for an elderly neighbor or visiting a local animal
shelter. Ask the child for suggestions on what new traditions they
would like to add to the holidays.
- Look for local support groups for children.
Most groups with a focus on child grief can provide additional
suggestions and resources and oftentimes offer additional support
around the holidays. Click here to find support.
Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a
valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with
grief and loss.
More information about grief or hospice is available from NHPCO's Caring