Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

This time of year can be a sour spot for those who have lost a loved one. Between gatherings that remind you that someone is missing, to the coming new year that brings much needed change. Grieving can be a tough process to get through, but you are not alone.

The swell of grief around the holidays is a common reason why many people seek therapy during this time of year. People often seek help for the immense sorrow that starts surfacing right around Thanksgiving, which some have felt in the recent weeks.

I first experienced that wave of grief in my own life when my older brother passed away and quiet recently with the passing of my grandmothers. Christmas music, holiday parties, and festive decorations that were meant to bring joy served as painful reminders of my loss and time that will pass without them. As it is for most people experiencing loss, the holiday season was the most painful time of all.

And it still is.

Photo by Wallace Chuck on

There is no clear way to get over the feeling of loss. No amount of time can dictate when your suppose to come out of grief, but the good news is that you are not alone. If you’re wondering how to get through the holidays this year without your loved one(s), these strategies can help:

Setting healthy boundaries

If attending a tree lighting ceremony or participating in the office gift swap is likely to bring about too many painful memories this year, be willing to say no. Other people may try to convince you to participate, but you certainly don’t have to try to please everyone.

Take time for Yourself

Taking time for myself has empowered me on handling my grief during the holiday season. I am very intentional about making time for my well-being by doing something to nourish my mind, body, and spirit every single day. For example, in my moments of grief I do not feel hungry. However, the self-care connoisseur in me knows I need to nourish my body with wholesome, healthy foods in order to stay healthy.

Plan ahead

Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. So while the upcoming Christmas dinner may only last two hours, you could easily spend three weeks dreading it.

For me, the anxiety comes when I’m asked “how are you doing?”. Internally thinking about how I feel this time of year is more painful than the loss itself. It reminds me of how sad I pretend not to be, in the faces of those who I visit.

Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish.

Being patient with the process

Life after loss requires lots of adjustments, especially during the holidays and celebratory days like birthdays. That adjustment takes time, which in turn requires a certain degree of patience.

I am different from my mother, my sisters, and my brother, and each of our adjustment period differs. I’ve learned not to beat myself up if they are seemingly doing well and moving faster than I am and so should you. What’s important is that you practice healthy habits so you can move forward in a positive way.

Ask for and accept help

After a death, people often desire to help but simply don’t know how. If you need someone to help you prepare meals, shop, or decorate, this is the time to speak up and make your needs known. Quite often, they will be delighted to feel like they are helping you in some way.

The same holds true for your emotional needs. Friends and family members might feel uncomfortable talking about your grief. They might think that you don’t want to talk about it and don’t want to be reminded of your pain. 

If you want to talk about what you’re going through, or you just need a shoulder to cry on, let them know.

One of the best things you can do this time of year is give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Try not to fall prey to the belief that you have to feel a certain way or do certain things in order to make the holidays “normal.” If you feel sad, allow the tears to come; if you feel angry, allow yourself to vent some steam, and above all else, if you need help, ask for it.

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