Grief and the Holidays

An inevitable question grieving people ask at this time of the year is, “How will I ever get through the holidays?”

Whether it’s the first or second holiday season they face, the added strain can create increased pressure for people already experiencing intense feelings of grief. Combined with the stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to imagine coping well, much less finding any enjoyment in the season whatsoever. So how do you “get through” this time? There is no single answer. Let this be the guiding thought: Do what is comfortable for you.

Be mindful. Anticipating the day is often much worse than the day itself. Recognize that the holidays will be different this year. In addition to the absence of your loved one, you too, are different this season. Slow yourself down by taking deep breaths. Take time to nurture yourself and allow yourself to notice any moments of joy or peace that happen.

Create a plan. Discuss your plan with your family. Be flexible in expectations for yourself and others, and compromise as needed. Avoid additional stress. Make a plan for a trusted friend or family member to be there for you in those “grief wave” moments. Consider purchasing gift cards or shopping online to avoid crowds in public spaces. Decide what things are most important to you and make changes where you can.

Consider rituals and traditions. These may be changing not only because of the death of your loved one, but also because of the pandemic’s limits and precautions. It may seem unsettling that nothing is the same as it was in years past.

However, it may also feel okay this year to be relieved of the pressure to put on a brave face for a big family gathering or neighborhood party. Rituals support the continuing bond between you and your loved one. Consider a new ritual or tradition to help strengthen that connection – light a candle, donate a gift in their memory, or gather with family and friends via Zoom or another platform to share memories and honor the person everyone is missing.

Look ahead. The death of your loved one and the events of the past year have created changes you may never have imagined.

As you look toward the coming year, consider all that has occurred and what you have learned. As you search to find meaning in your loss and continue your life story, you may begin to understand some of what has happened and find a bridge between the past and future that makes sense to you.

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