Managing Grief During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a very difficult time for people who have lost a loved one. Often there are memories of good times and togetherness during the holiday season that remind us of our loss. Holidays sometimes force us to realize how much our lives have been changed by the loss of a loved one and many are left having to develop new holiday rituals and traditions whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanza or New Year’s Day.

According to the Journal of Family Practice, many ask themselves questions like, “Who’s going to carve the turkey this year now that Grandpa has died?” Other common thoughts include, “I don’t have the energy or desire to shop, to decorate, or to be around others this year at Christmas.” “I just want to erase Chanukah this year. I’ll just feel too empty
without my husband to celebrate.” Orleans Parish Coroner, Dr. Dwight McKenna, says this can be a difficult time of the year and feelings of grief are a natural response to the separation and stress that go along with death.

Dr. McKenna says there is grief, then there is complicated grief. Complicated grief typically exceeds the typical amount of time (6-12 months) that people need to recover from a loss. Always remember, healing takes time and there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season while grieving. The best way to get through it is to plan ahead, get support from others, and take it easy.

Some Tips for Coping with Grief at the Holidays

  • Remind yourself that this year is different.
  • Decide if you can still handle the responsibilities you’ve had in the past.
  • Examine the tasks and events of celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them.
  • Take others up on offers to cook, shop, decorate, etc.
  • 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.
    Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
  • 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.
  • Try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
  • Physical exercise is often an antidote for depression.
  • Writing in a journal can be a good outlet for your grief.

Other ideas:

  • Create a memory box. You could fill it with photos of your loved one or written memory notes from family members and friends.
  • Make a decorative quilt using favorite colors, symbols or images that remind you of the person who died.
  • Light a candle in honor of your loved one.
  • Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  • Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
  • 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.