How to cope with grief during the holidays

  • “Who’s going to make the sweet potato pie this year? Grandma always did it…”
  • “I don’t have the energy or desire to shop, decorate or visit others this Christmas since my mom died.”
  • “I don’t want to celebrate this year. The holidays just won’t be the same without my closest family and loved ones.”

Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanza, or New Year’s Day, it can be very difficult during the holidays for people who have experienced the death of a loved one. Memories serve as a continuous reminder of the loss. Watching others celebrate and engage in thanksgiving activities can be dreadful and overwhelming. Specifically in the first year after a loss, learning how to cope and develop new holiday rituals and traditions is a must!

The first step in coping with grief during the holidays is expecting that the first holiday season will be difficult. It can be prepared for by making specific plans and obtaining the support needed. Something to keep in mind is that the anticipation of a holiday can be more difficult than the day itself.

Tips for coping with Grief during the Holidays

Establish realistic expectations for yourself

Remind yourself that this year will be different. Decide if you’re able to handle past responsibilities and expectations. Think about the tasks and events of celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them. Accept others’ offers to cook, shop, decorate, etc. Consider refraining from those events and tasks if you feel a need to avoid crowds or certain memories.

Surround yourself with people who love and support you.

Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of changes in holiday routines. Memories can sometimes be a source of comfort to the bereaved, so you can share them by telling stories and looking at photo albums.

Resist the temptation to “avoid” or “cancel” the holiday.

Understand that It is completely OK to avoid some circumstances that you don’t feel ready to handle but try not to isolate yourself. Implement times for solitude, remembering, and grieving, but establish a balance with planned social activities.

Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, and anger – allow yourself to grieve.

It is important to acknowledge that every family member has his/her own unique grief experience. There is no right, wrong, or one way in particular. Experiencing joy and laughter during a time of grief does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.

Volunteer/Do Something Charitable

Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of your loved one. Invite a guest who might otherwise be alone for the holidays. Adopt a needy family during the holiday season. Helping others helps alleviate your sadness while bringing joy into someone else’s life who needs it.

Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your current situation.

Some people find comfort in honoring traditions, while others find them unbearably hurtful. Discuss with your family the activities you want to include or exclude this year. Some examples of new rituals and traditions include:

  • Announce beforehand that someone different will be cooking different dishes, carving the turkey, or hosting the festivity at their house.
  • Light a candle in honor of your loved one.
  • Put a bouquet on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  • Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site.
  • Have a moment of silence during a holiday toast to honor 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. The best coping mechanism for the first holiday season is to plan, get support from others and take it easy.

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