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Five tips to cope with grief during the holidays

Holidays, including any special day, can be an especially difficult time for people who have experienced the death of someone dear to them. It's often a time when the experience and feelings of loss is heightened.

If this is your first holiday season without your loved one, be prepared for the holiday to feel different than it has in the past. As holidays approach, you may experience a sense of dread and wish you didn't have to face the arrival of the holidays at all. Rather than anticipating the feeling of joy, you may feel increased pain and sadness associated with memories of your loved one, even when the loss was not recent. Feelings of being "alone in the crowd" when the rest of the world seems to be celebrating are also common.

Tips for coping with grief

Here are five ways to help you face grief during the holidays:

  1. Make a plan.
    Create a plan about what you'll do to mark the holiday and who you'll be with. Let go of what you or others think you "should do" and focus on what you need. A plan can help manage feelings of dread and help you feel more prepared. Make sure the plan is respectful of your energy and your feelings. A plan to cope with grief can include things you've always done or something different. 
  2. Consider the needs of children.
    If there are children in your family, remember that they tend to rely on consistency, so even if a parent has died there might still be a way to celebrate the holidays. However you choose to observe the holiday, understand that it will never be the same as it was before. Grief will certainly be part of the experience.  
  3. Realize grief is unique.
    Each person experiences grief in their own way. It's important to understand that family members may have different needs during this time. The actual day may or may not be not as bad as imagined. For some the anticipation of the day is harder, for others the aftermath is harder.
  4. Stay flexible.
    Keep your plan as flexible and as simple as possible. There may be times when you need to skip certain activities depending on how you or family members are feeling. In response to invitations, let people know that you'll need to see how you're feeling on the day of the event as you may or may not be up for it. Don't feel pressure to over-commit yourself. 
  5. Make time for feelings and self-care.
    It's important to acknowledge that you'll need time and space for the feelings that are likely to arise. Be sure to include self-care in your plan—take a nap, warm bath or walk, eat nutritious food or use a journal to express your thoughts and feelings.

Ways to remember your loved one

Finding ways to remember your loved one during the holidays gives everyone permission to acknowledge the loss and provides a way to continue the relationship with the loved one. Some ideas include:

  • set a place at the table or place flowers or a special object  
  • share stories of the loved one around the table or during a gathering 
  • light a candle for the loved one
  • volunteer somewhere in their memory
  • read a poem or story in honor of the person
  • create a memory book or box with your children
  • make a donation in their memory
  • keep a tradition or aspect of the holiday they enjoyed or that meant a lot to them in their honor

Grief support

You'll get through this time, even when it's painful. Joining a group or talking with a counselor can give you important support during this difficult time. One of the most important things you can do for yourself when you're grieving is to get support, whether from friends, family and/or outside support. Support groups or counseling can help you know that you're not alone and offer information about grief and loss that can help normalize the many feelings that arise.


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