Coping with Grief on the Holidays After Losing a Loved One

Coping with Grief
Holidays and Grief

Coping with Grief on the Holidays After Losing a Loved One

The holidays are seen as a time of happiness and celebration, but they may not feel that way after the loss of a loved one. As the holidays approach, you might find yourself feeling anxious and overwhelmed, wishing you could just skip this season and move on into the next calendar year.

With this post, we’d like to offer some advice on how to cope with the pain you feel before and during the holiday season. While these strategies may not make the holidays feel the same as they did before – change is inevitable, after all – they should help you approach this season in a better frame of mind. We hope these strategies help, and we wish you nothing but the best moving forward.

Five Tips for Coping with Grief at the Holidays

Let’s jump right into a list of tips that you can use immediately as you prepare for the holiday season.

  • Don’t ignore the topic. As fall arrives and October turns to November, there will be a temptation to ignore the upcoming holidays. You are already dealing with your grief over this painful loss, after all, so you don’t want to add to it by thinking about the experience of going through the holidays without someone so important to you. While the avoidance of this topic may feel comforting in the moment, it isn’t going to help you work through this grieving period in the long run. The holidays are going to come either way, so it’s a more productive approach to consider how you feel about the season ahead and how you would like to handle it. These will be tough thoughts, to be sure, but you’ll be better for it in the end.
  • Build a reasonable plan. Part of preparing for the holidays is planning out how you will spend your time. If you have lost someone important to you in the past year, those plans are going to look different than they did in the past. Deciding how you are going to spend your time in the coming holiday season should be a balance of engaging with friends and family and not doing so much that you feel overwhelmed. You may not want to do as much as you’ve done in the past, and that’s okay – but you probably don’t want to stay home the entire time, either. Think about what events you’d like to include in your schedule and permit yourself to sit out a couple of things, as well.
  • Be open to grief. Given the expectation at holiday time to be positive and cheery, you might feel like you should suppress your grief and put on a happy face. Put that feeling to the side and allow yourself to grieve, even during the holidays. You are going through a difficult time, and there is nothing wrong with letting the sadness and other negative emotions come through. Those are all part of the process and pushing them down is only going to make it harder to heal.
  • Externalize your loss. Along those same lines, keeping all your pain and emotion inside is going to make things worse. Finding a way to externalize your loss is a powerful tool that can be especially helpful during the holidays. Also, externalizations are a way to include other people in the healing process, which is another potentially helpful tool. Consider simple acts like lighting a candle or placing a bouquet of flowers in honor of the loved one or loved ones you’ve lost.
  • Forgive yourself. Above all else, forgive yourself for whatever emotions come up during the holiday season. This difficult time is often made worse when a grieving individual feels like he or she needs to act or behave in a certain way just because it’s the holidays. Remember, you don’t owe anything to anyone, and you have the right to feel however it is you feel about the situation. Be nice to yourself and let the holidays play out in a way that feels comfortable and appropriate for your needs.

You may find some of these tips more helpful than others, but we hope at least some of them help you approach the holidays with some comfort.

Honor Old Traditions & Create New Ones

The traditions that come along with the holiday season are part of what makes this such a difficult time to deal with loss. Specifically, traditions that have included a member of your family for many years will be hard to continue if that person is no longer with you. So, should you try to carry on those old traditions or work on creating new ones to move forward?

Most likely, a combination of those two approaches will be the best bet. You don’t want to throw out everything you’ve done before – there is some comfort to be found in tradition, even if it has changed – but it’s also okay to create some new rituals. Make it a goal to start one new tradition this holiday season while still honoring some of those past traditions that you’ve always held dear.

Spend Some Time Focusing on Others

It’s natural to focus your thoughts inwardly during such a tough time, but you may find relief and healing in working on behalf of others during the holidays. There are countless volunteer opportunities at this time of year, and you don’t need to have any experience or expertise to get involved. Pick a local cause that you feel is important and donate at least a little bit of your time.

The healing power of helping others is tremendous and you may be surprised at how dramatically this action can shift your view on the whole season.

Lean on Friends and Family

The first holiday season after the loss of a loved one is sure to be hard, so this is a great time to turn to your friends and family for support. Those who are closest to you will be happy to help in any way they can, but they might not know how. If you take the lead by reaching out, you’ll find ears that are eager to listen. Feeling the love that comes from these groups can bring some light back into a season that might otherwise feel a little dark.

Why Might Feelings of Loss or Grief Intensify During the Holidays?

One of the ironies of the holiday season is that this time of year can bring a tremendous amount of grief to so many people. The idea of the season is to be happy and thankful for what we have and those around us, but the very celebrations themselves can be a trigger for a flood of negative feelings and emotions.

Largely, it is the memories we have of holidays past that lead to this grief. When a loved one is no longer present, it’s all too easy to think about happy times gone by. Holiday gatherings and other events are extremely memorable – perhaps more so than anything else you do during the year. So, when the holidays return and a loved one has passed recently, your memories of that individual are sure to be front of mind.

How Do You Help Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?

It’s difficult to see someone grieving at Christmas or while celebrating any holiday. You naturally want everyone in your circle or family and friends to be happy and enjoying the season. At the same time, you don’t want to say the wrong thing to help, and inadvertently make things worse.

So, how do you approach the situation properly? Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to something so personal. You’ll need to use your understanding of the other person and the situation they are facing to decide if and when you should say something about their loss. Some people will want to talk about it at length, while others will prefer to deal with their grief privately.

As one piece of advice, it’s usually best to get ahead of this situation and talk it over before the holidays arrive. On Christmas Day, for example, the individual is likely to be very emotional. If you’ve already talked about how the holidays will go and what they’d like from you in terms of support, you won’t have to talk about it in the moment.

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