Coping with Grief at the Holidays

The holidays are doubly difficult for those grieving a loss.

First, there is the loss itself. And that is no better at any particular season. But at the holidays, there is added grief — loss of sharing the joy of the holidays: the rituals that cannot be the same;  the loss of sharing seasonal emotion; perhaps loss of shared giving; and of course the obvious hole in the coming together natural to the season.

So we need to take special care of those grieving at this time of year. Whether it is another, or yourself.

Here are some tips that might help.


Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different.

Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in holiday routine.

Try to avoid “canceling” the holiday despite the temptation. It is OK to avoid some circumstances that you don’t feel ready to handle, but don’t isolate yourself. Allow yourself some time for solitude, remembering and grieving, but balance it with planned activities with others.

Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger – allow yourself to grieve. It is important to recognize that every family member has his/her own unique grief experience and may have different needs related to celebrating the holidays.

Draw comfort from doing for others. Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of you loved one.

Take care of yourself. Avoid using alcohol to self-medicate your mood.

Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your current situation. Some people find comfort in the old traditions.  Some examples of new rituals and traditions include:

  • Announce beforehand that someone different will carve the turkey.
  • Create a memory box. You could fill it with photos of your loved one or written memory notes from family members and friends. Young children could include their drawings in the memory box.
  • Light a candle in honor of your absent loved one.
  • Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  • Have a moment of silence during a holiday toast to honor your loved one.
  • Place a commemorative ornament on the Christmas tree.
  • Dedicate one of the Chanukah candles in memory of your loved one.
  • Write a poem about your loved one and read it during a holiday ritual.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite music or favorite game.
  • Plan a meal with your loved ones’ favorite foods.

The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one, and that the best way to cope with that first holiday season is to plan ahead, get support from others and take it easy.

The tips in  this post is copied out of the Vitas Healthcare web site page Coping With Grief During the Holidays.

About Richard Haverlack

Richard Haverlack has been writing the memoirs of hospice patients for more than eight years. He has recently written a book, A Memoir of Memoirs - Writing Stories Told at Life's End, which is about the poignant and enlightening experiences he's had in doing this work. Richard is a volunteer for the Good Samaritan Hospice near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also is active in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institution at the University of Pittsburgh where he studies as well as teaches.

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