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  • Writer's pictureWendy Rolon

Holiday Grief - A How To Guide

If you’re grieving during the holidays, you may not feel much like celebrating. It can be difficult to watch the non-grieving people out there having a blast while your life has been turned upside down by grief, especially if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. The thing about grief is, it comes uninvited and it hangs around even after you’ve asked it to leave a million times. Grieving can be confusing and overwhelming which makes it even more challenging to know how to handle it during the holidays, a time associated with joy and cheer.

Yes, grieving can be really painful, but I want you to know there are things you can do to cope with your grief during the holidays. Since you can’t choose not to grieve, it’s best to have a plan. 

Here’s a guide for how to work with your grief around the holidays:

Figure out what will be the hardest for you

Certain aspects of the holidays will trigger you more than others. Figure out what the most stressful situations will be, so you can minimize that stress and set your expectations properly. Share this information with your friends and family so you can collaborate on how best to support yourself.

Friends, family and spending time on your own

Speaking of friends and family, it’s important to plan how spending time with them will look, if you’re going to be with them during the holidays. You'll likely spend some time with friends and/or family and some time on your own. Here are some ideas for each.

When you’re on your own, away from family, it can be very helpful to create a plan for yourself. Give yourself things to do, even if that means ordering take-out and planning to watch a favorite show. Consider maintaining a daily routine that keeps you grounded and gently moving forward. Ask friends to check in on you regularly, so you don’t need to work up the energy to keep reaching out to them for support. Ask them to bring you food and invite you to gatherings (you can talk with them about leaving early if needed).

If you’ll be with family for the holidays, determine which family members you’ll be with and if possible, schedule a meeting so you can create a plan together. 


Talk about the rituals you’d typically do, and which ones will be the hardest this year. How can you support one another so stress is minimized? Are there things you should skip this time? Is there anything new you might do that feels relevant now? 

Connecting with the person who has died

It can be healing to find ways to acknowledge the person who has died and incorporate them into the holidays. This person will likely be on everyone’s mind, and it can be comforting to find joy in their memory, even though that joy is intermingled with sadness. For example, would you like to tell stories about or toast the person who has died? Play their favorite music? Serve their favorite dish in their honor? Are there other ways you might bring your loved one’s spirit into the holidays?

Roles and Responsibilities

Think about the tasks and traditions your loved one would’ve taken charge of, and how you might reassign them if that feels appropriate. Are there certain roles that will need to change? Is there one member of the group that might end up feeling overly burdened with tasks? Encourage family members to be honest about what they feel comfortable taking on. This is a time to practice being flexible and patient with one another.

Go gently and slowly and don’t worry about changing your mind

It’s ok to take it easy this year. If events need to be smaller, that’s fine. These transitions have no dress rehearsal and it can be hard to anticipate what you’ll actually be capable of pulling off. Measure your success in terms of how kind you can be to yourself. If you need to change your plan a bit, and then change it again, that’s ok. Ask for help. Family and friends should be aware that changing your mind about what you can do is acceptable, and that you honor the family member who has died by showing each other love and support

Plan Self Care 

Think about ways you’ll care for yourself when things feel hard. Here are some ideas:

  • spending time in nature

  • journaling

  • doing breathing exercises or gentle stretching

  • going to yoga

  • meditating

  • calling a friend

  • attending a support group

  • doing art or craft projects

  • baking

  • reading (audiobooks if you can’t focus enough to read)

  • cuddling with a loved one or a pet

  • connecting with your spiritual or religious community if you have one

And if you feel consistently overwhelmed with grief, please let someone know so they can help you get support. ✦

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