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Grieving during the holidays

When we think of the holidays, we think of spending time with family and our loved ones. These relationships bring meaning to our lives, and the holidays remind us of that. But what do we do during the holidays after a loved one has died?

The traditions that we once shared with them can feel different now or may change entirely. Our memories can become clouded by the reality that our loved one is no longer there to make new memories.

Holidays can magnify the loss. Sometimes, we miss our loved one even more during this time of year, leading to increased sorrow. Pretending that the holidays are not a harder time for you will only make things more difficult. Be honest with yourself about your feelings, and know that it is okay to grieve during this time of the year. Grieving is the avenue through which the pain decreases, so allow yourself time to grieve and remember your loved one.

The following are some helpful ways to incorporate your loved one into the holidays:

  • Share one of your favorite memories or a story about them.
  • Encourage everyone to tell a funny story or share a special memory of them.
  • Pray before the holiday meal, expressing thanksgiving for the time you did have with them.
  • Write a letter to them.

The following are some helpful ways to cope with the loss during the holidays:

  • Celebrate the holiday in a new way. Evaluate the holiday traditions you enjoy and continue to do those things. Subsequently, evaluate which parts of the holiday you do not enjoy and discontinue those. Allow yourself to choose what is right for you. This may result in your holidays looking very different.
  • Make a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A might resemble your past holiday gatherings with family or friends. But, if Plan A doesn’t feel right as the day approaches, you could go to Plan B. This could include something that was special to just you and your loved one, such as going to a place that was special to the both of you, looking through a photo album, or watching a movie that you both liked. Having a Plan B gives you options.
  • This may sound drastic, but you can cancel the holiday. Many people think they “have to” go through the holiday routine with family or friends. You DON’T. If you are going through the motions but don’t feel anything, then cancel the holiday. Take it off; it will come around again next year. On the other hand, some people find it important to continue holiday routines as a way of acknowledging that life continues after the loss.
  • Do not be alarmed if you feel like you will never enjoy the holidays again; this is very natural. While it is true that holidays change because of loss, it is possible to find new meaning in new holiday traditions.

Do’s

  • Do allow time to feel your emotions.
  • Do be gentle and patient with yourself, remembering to protect yourself from others who think they know what you “should” or “shouldn’t” do for the holidays.
  • Do allow others to help you.

Don’ts

  • Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. Cry if you need to cry. Express your anger in healthy ways if you’re angry.
  • Don’t do more than you want to do. Allow yourself the freedom to grieve; don’t ignore your feelings of loss.
  • Don’t continue in the same holiday routine just because you feel that you “should.”

Celebrating the holidays will look different at various times in our lives, so remember that there is not simply one right way of celebrating the holidays. Allow your pain and loss to change the shape of what the holidays look like this year, but also know that these changes are not written in stone. Next year you can decide to do something entirely different. You will get through this special season, and, you might even be surprised at the blessings ahead.


Dr. Rick FowlerAuthor: Meagan Yarbrough, M.A., LPC

Meagan has a passion for helping others experience true healing. Her hope is to help guide others toward knowledge and truth that leads to changed minds and lives. Prior to joining Hope For The Heart, Meagan gained experience working at an inpatient mental health facility. Meagan’s approach to counseling encompasses an integration of Christianity and psychology when the client desires that Christianity be involved. Some of the counseling methods Meagan uses include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution- Focused Therapy and Psychoanalytic Therapy.

Learn more about Meagan.


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