Photo of green evergreen pine branch, a few small pinecones, 2 strings of star lights around a gold leaf wreath all arranged on a table with a light pink background

“Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season”

By Alan Wolfelt

The suggestions below offer practical tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Alan D. Wolfelt, the author of these suggestions, writes prolifically about all aspects of grief. He offers practical suggestions for handling grief (including for teens and kids), and he addresses grief in all the many ways it affects our lives. This article, “Helping Yourself Heal During the Holidays,” can be found in its entirety at Center for Loss. His considerable number of books are available on his website.

You Are Not Alone

Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of someone loved. Rather than being times of family togetherness, sharing, and thanksgiving, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss, and emptiness.

No simple guidelines exist that will take away the hurt you are feeling. We hope, however, the following suggestions will help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year. Remember that by being tolerant and compassionate with yourself, you will continue to heal.

Talk About Your Grief
During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen—without judging you. They will help make you feel understood.

Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Psychological Limits
Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

Eliminate Unnecessary Stress
You may already feel stressed, so don’t overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself. Realize also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief but may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Old-fashioned artistic rendering of a post card of 2 tabby kittens, green holly with red berries, and a brown and pink-flushed bird tweeting "Merry Christmas"
Cats at Christmas, The New York Public Library

Be With Supportive, Comforting People
Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings. Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings—both happy and sad.

Talk About the Person Who Has Died
Include the person’s name in your holiday conversation. If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.

Do What Is Right for You During the Holidays
Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend. Talking about these wishes will help you clarify what it is you want to do during the holidays. As you become aware of your needs, share them with your friends and family.

photo of a beautiful long-haired tabby cat reaching into a Christmas tree to play with a fragile gold and red decorative ornament.

Plan Ahead for Family Gatherings
Decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. Structure your holiday time. This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens. Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear, and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened. As you make your plans, however, leave room to change them if you feel it is appropriate.

Embrace Your Treasure of Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. And holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends. Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, then it’s all right to cry. Memories made in love can never be taken away from you.

Renew Your Resources for Living
Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life. The death of someone loved created opportunities for taking inventory of your life—past, present and future. The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your individual situation. Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you.

Express Your Faith
During the holidays, you may find a renewed sense of faith or discover a new set of beliefs. Associate with people who understand and respect your need to talk about these beliefs. If your faith is important, you may want to attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony. As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don’t let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.

birds feeding on the snowy ground beneath the hemlocks. a red cardinal stands out from the group of brown songbirds
Birds Beneath the Snowy Hemlocks, My Forever Son

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