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Published on May 27, 2020

12 Tips for Grieving during the Holidays

photo in heart frame

For those who have experienced the death of someone close, the holiday season often seems to intensify the already hard feelings. 

The anticipation of the holidays is often as difficult - or even more difficult - than the holidays themselves.

Our grief and bereavement experts offer these dozen ideas that may help you navigate through the holidays:

1 - Take good care of yourself.

Commit to doing all the things that you know are good for you:

  • resting and getting enough sleep
  • regular exercise
  • a balanced, healthy diet
  • avoiding alcohol or drugs to mask the pain
  • being with people who support and nourish you

Think about how you have coped in the past and draw upon those strengths again.


2 - Have a plan and prioritize.

Having a plan is not going to take away the pain of the loss, but it will help you to avoid getting blind-sided by it. 

For example, if your loved one always carved the Thanksgiving turkey, plan who will do it this year - even plan to make it a ceremonial transfer of responsibility, if that helps.

Plan which things you feel you absolutely must do and what you can give up (e.g., you may decide that you absolutely must still have the grandchildren over, but you can skip sending out holiday cards).


3 - Don’t do things just because it is expected of you.

You may have always led the committee for the gift wrapping booth at the mall. Do not pressure yourself to do it this year. You do not owe an explanation to anyone; just say, “not this year.”


4 - Accept and even ask for help.

Don’t try to do it all alone. If you want a Christmas tree, don’t hesitate to ask someone else to set it up and decorate it for you (and take it down afterwards!). Tell people what they can do to help.


5 - Accept that you’ll have pain.

Again, nothing is going to take away the pain of your loss. Carry tissues with you; tell people you are with that you might cry and invite them to cry with you.

Don’t be surprised by the intensity and the range of emotions: anger, panic, depression, regrets, loneliness, as well as physical symptoms. This is normal. It is not a setback; it is how grief is.


6 - Don’t be afraid to change traditions.

Some things just may be too much. If there are certain traditions that are so definitively tied up with your loved one - that no one else can do or that you could not bear to see them do - change the tradition.

Get new decorations, a new menorah, a new turkey platter, or change the times of events. It may just be for this year, but do what feels the most comfortable now.


7 - Create new traditions

Perhaps you have thought about starting something new for some time. This might be a good year to start that new tradition.

Discuss it with the rest of the family and see if there are some ideas.


8 - Consider some type of memorial or remembrance to your loved one.

Make a donation in your loved one’s name. Hang a Christmas stocking to hold notes written by family. Make a toast or light a candle. Have a place setting for the person with a beautiful rose on the plate. Buy a gift for your loved one and give it to someone who otherwise would not be getting a gift.


9 - Don’t try retail therapy.

Overindulging others with gifts will not take the hurt away and will just leave you with debt. This is the perfect time to give yourself the gift of simplicity and the joy that comes with it.

On the other hand, if there are gifts you want to buy, but just find the mall overwhelming, on-line or catalog shopping may be a more comfortable alternative.


10 - Don’t isolate yourself.

Accept a few invitations - perhaps those from close family or friends. Choose the ones that sound most appealing at the time, but tell the hostess you may have to cancel or leave early.

Do not feel obligated to stay - you do not need to add the burden of “hanging in there” to your grief.

If you do shed a few tears or break down in grief, don’t give yourself a hard time about it. It actually might provide others the freedom to express their grief.


11 - Share your favorite stories.

Instead of trying to push back memories of the person you are grieving this holiday, ask friends and family members to share recollections of the person with photographs, stories, and mementos.

Too often people with the best intentions will not talk about the loved one in front of you, thinking that it will cause you extra pain. You can set the tone for how much and when you want to talk.


12 - Prepare yourself for January.

Sometimes the aftermath of the holidays can bring more sadness than the holidays themselves. Continue the self-care and planning and acknowledgement of your grief into the New Year. 

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