For many, the holidays are a merry time of year full of joy and excitement—a special season to look forward to.
However, for others who may be grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be just another painful reminder of an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table.
For those feeling like their holiday spirit has been swapped with sorrow this season, here are some tips for getting through the grief.
Tips for Getting Through the Stages of Grief During the Holidays
1. Don’t isolate from others.
While it may feel easier to lock yourself away in a dark room and hide from the world until the weight of your grief dissipates, isolating yourself during such a difficult time only enables you to drown in your own sorrow. It’s okay to need some time alone, but don’t shut yourself off from others that could help provide warmth and comfort to you during this difficult time.
While loss is one of the most painful human experiences to endure, just because a loved one’s life has ended doesn’t mean that yours has to. Your loved one would want you to be happy and live each day to the fullest. Life is too short to miss out on the little moments that matter, so remember to be kind and patient with yourself, even when you are feeling down.
2. Surround yourself with supportive loved ones.
When you’re going through hard times, it helps to be surrounded by people who love you, support you, and understand what you’re going through. Do not feel guilty for leaning on others or needing extra support when you need it most.
Having a shoulder to cry on or having someone who is willing to lend a listening ear can help you process your feelings in a healthy way and assures that you are not left alone to deal with your grief.
3. Don’t try to avoid or numb feelings of grief.
You can’t run or hide from grief, and the truth is, sometimes, it can catch you by surprise. Don’t try to avoid the inevitable.
Avoiding or numbing feelings of grief with defense mechanisms and/or substance abuse will only delay the pain and could intensify the emotions to be even stronger and more consuming.
Loss is painful, and it’s going to hurt. Please remember to take care of yourself, even if you may not feel like it.
4. On the flip side, don't feel guilty for feeling any kind of happiness or joy during the holidays.
Just as you shouldn’t be plastering a fake smile onto your face for the sake of others when you are grieving during the holidays, you shouldn’t deny yourself of the small, precious moments that make you smile or laugh.
Grief may be ongoing, but some days feel better than others. Sometimes grief may feel debilitating, while during other times you can hardly notice its presence.
Just because you are in the process of grieving doesn’t mean that you deserve to feel miserable and joyless. Remember that emotions are not cut and dry. They are sometimes complicated and confusing—You can experience both joy and sadness simultaneously, and that’s okay.
5. Set boundaries for yourself with holiday events.
The holidays can already be stressful, overstimulating, and overwhelming for people without adding grief into the equation. However, handling multiple holiday events in the midst of mourning can be outright impossible.
This is why it is important to set boundaries for yourself with holiday events. The truth is that there is no “one size fits all” for grieving. What you may need to get through the holidays might look different than what someone else would need, so give yourself permission to do what you need to do.
Maybe this means leaving the holiday party earlier than expected, not hosting events in your home, or skipping certain events altogether. Maybe you would feel more comfortable taking on more holiday tasks to help you stay busy. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you need and do what is best for you.
6. Always be prepared with a list of grief coping strategies.
Oftentimes, grief can sneak up on you when you least expect it. This is why it is important to always be prepared with a list of grief coping strategies to fall back on when you feel like you can’t breathe.
Knowing what your triggers are beforehand such as certain aromas, topics of conversation, places, foods, people, etc. also significantly helps you prepare appropriately for different scenarios.
Some examples of grief coping strategies that can help when you are triggered include the following:
- Doing something you enjoy as a distraction
- Increasing endorphins through regular exercise
- Talking to someone about what you’re feeling
- Setting aside a time and place to grieve and cry
- Keeping a journal
- Expressing emotions through creative outlets such as music, painting, crafting, etc.
- Physically leaving the place where you are to clear your head
- Participating in more social activities
- Reminiscing in a healthy manner
7. Plan ahead for fulfilling any missing holiday roles.
Family traditions are an integral part of what makes the holidays so special and nostalgic. When you lose a loved one, this may change the dynamic of the family or affect certain roles in holiday events.
Be prepared for this so that it doesn’t hit you too hard. If your loved one always made a staple holiday dish or performed a specific song on the piano, get someone else to step up to the plate or even create new family traditions to be passed on.
8. Take some time to honor your loved one’s memory.
Even when our loved ones pass away, they never really leave us. The impact that they’ve made on the world and their memory continue to live on through us.
When you’re missing this person, it is okay to take a moment to reminisce about your moments spent together, look through old photographs, watch home videos of them, or bake that special pie that they taught you to make.
Knowing that you will always carry a piece of them wherever you go can create a sense of comfort when you wish they were there with you.
9. Volunteer or do charity work.
Sometimes getting out of your own world and dedicating your time and energy towards bettering someone else’s life can be therapeutic.
You may feel a looming sense of darkness in your life, but shining your light into someone else’s darkness can be a truly rewarding experience.
Look into volunteering or doing charity work within your community to help others who, like you, may be struggling this time of year.
10. Don’t be afraid to help from a professional. Look into therapy.
Grief is heavy, and it’s okay to need support during this difficult time. You don’t have to suffer in silence or go through this alone.
There are always trained professionals available who are there to help you. Don’t let yourself drown in the darkness. You deserve to feel some sort of happiness or comfort during the holidays, no matter how different or difficult it may feel this year.