A woman dealing with grief during the holiday season.
Healthy Living

Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

Nov 21 2023

Jennifer Mosely, MSW, LISW-S, a bereavement counselor for Mercy Health – New Life Hospice, shares her thoughts on how individuals can deal with grief during the holidays this year.

For many of us, the holidays offer a much-needed break from our busy lives. It’s a time of year to enjoy old traditions while gathering with friends and family members. But for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the month-long holiday celebrations can be a difficult or bittersweet time.

The emotional intensity of the holidays can deepen the pain of a loss and the season can be especially tough for those who are in their first year of grieving. However, feeling a sense of loss many years later is just as common.

The holidays present a number of challenges for the bereaved.

The season can be filled with unwelcome reminders of the loss. For example, celebrations don’t feel the same when grandpa isn’t there to carve the turkey, or mom isn’t there to trim the tree. Additionally, our culture’s emphasis on joy and togetherness can spark both pleasant and painful memories of past holiday events.

Spending time with family and friends can be an important source of support, but it can also add to the stress as you try to cope with grief. People who are grieving may feel pressure to act upbeat for the sake of others when, inside, they feel anything but happy. Friends who are uncomfortable talking about the death sometimes try to minimize the grieving person’s pain – or even avoid mentioning the loss at all.

The activity demands of the holidays can also be overwhelming for those who are in the grieving process. Bereavement takes an incredible amount of mental energy. It’s hard to handle shopping, entertaining, decorating and cooking when your mind is already overloaded and your thoughts are elsewhere.

Despite these challenges, it’s possible to cope and find new opportunities for hope and healing.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone grieves differently. There are no rules. The right approach is the one that feels comfortable for you and your family.

For example, some people find continuing with the holiday routine without a loved one is an important way to continue sharing their memory. And for others, it may be more comforting to develop new rituals to help lessen the pain and immediacy of the loss.

Many people find it helpful to stay busy but not too busy. There’s nothing wrong with skipping the Christmas cards, saying “no” to a holiday party or asking a sibling to host the holiday meal. Prioritize the parts of the holidays that you find comforting and nurturing, then simplify the rest. There are no shopping police who will come around because you decided to give gift cards this year. Overall, set realistic expectations for yourself.

On a positive note, the holidays can be an opportunity to remember your loved one who has died and honor his or her importance in your life. Visiting their grave, sharing family stories or supporting your loved one’s favorite charity can all help to keep the person’s memory and spirit alive. These rituals are a good idea and a great way to get others involved, which helps soothe some of the loneliness of the loss.

Above all, just remember to honor your feelings of grief. Not only is grieving during the holiday season important, but it’s also necessary to do so. The feelings may not be pleasant, but they’re part of the healing process. Have faith that the pain and this difficult time will pass and that you will one day be able to enjoy the holidays again.

Do you live in the Lorain, Ohio area? New Life Hospice offers services that help the bereaved understand and work through the grief process, including Living Through Grief, a seven-week educational support group. To learn more about New Life Hospice or their bereavement programs, call 440-934-1458. 

As we approach the holiday season, hopefully, these tips help you with grief during the holidays. And if not, we are here to help.

Learn about the mental health and primary care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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