7 Tips for Managing Grief During the Holidays

Written by Donna Oldenburg, LCPC, NCC

Holidays are a challenging time for those who are grieving. The sights, sounds, and smells of the season can act as grief triggers, and pressure to be “in the holiday spirit,” can prove overwhelming when you’ve just experienced a loss. The pandemic has added a new twist to holiday grief. For some, limitations on family gatherings are a blessing since there is less pressure to publicly manage their emotions at holiday events. For others, the absence of holiday gatherings denies them the support of family and friends at a very vulnerable time.

Whatever your plans this holiday season, there are strategies to help manage the myriad emotions you may be feeling.

  1. Manage Your Expectations. This holiday won’t feel the same, with or without the pandemic. You may choose to celebrate the holiday at a different location, or with different people. If you feel like skipping the traditions this year, go ahead. You may return to those traditions next year or create new ones.
  2. Inform Others of Your Needs. Family and friends will have ideas about what you need this holiday season. Advocate for yourself by letting your well-intentioned supporters know what feels comfortable, and what feels triggering, for you. Let them know you may need to cancel or leave the holiday event early. Keep things flexible as your emotions may change on the day of the event.
  3. Express Your Emotions. Grief brings a range of emotions, from sadness and anger to guilt. Allow yourself the space to express those emotions when needed. If emotions feel too difficult to handle alone, seek professional help. Cancer Wellness Center provides individual grief counseling, as well as bereavement support groups.
  4. Ask for Help. Holidays are busy times. You don’t have to do it all. Ask family and friends for help with tasks such as holiday shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, or stringing up lights.
  5. Plan for Self-Care. Grief is exhausting, and holidays add to its intensity. Take time to manage any distress you may be feeling. Cancer Wellness Center offers a wide range of virtual wellness classes including yoga, meditation, tai chi chih, and strength and conditioning.
  6. Create Healing Rituals. One of the best ways to honor your loved one, and heal your own grief, is to create rituals that keep your loved one present during the holidays. This can be as simple as leaving an empty chair at the holiday table or making a favorite holiday dish. Decorate a tree, or wreath, in your loved one’s memory, or ask family and friends to write down favorite memories of your loved one that can be placed in a memory box, or holiday stocking, and later read aloud.
  7. Mind Your Mindfulness. Mindfulness reminds us that there is impermanence in the pain and sorrow of grief you are feeling this holiday season. While you may never stop grieving your loved one, your grief will ebb and flow and change with time. Allow yourself to be open to these changes as you move toward healing.