Grief During the Holidays

First Beach, Newport, Rhode Island.

Holidays are a time where most of us prepare to gather with our families to celebrate. For many, it is a wonderful albeit stressful time of year, filled with family and traditions. For anyone who has lost someone, however, it can be a time filled with sadness and loneliness. 

Those who have lost a loved one know that no matter how much time has passed, the holidays oftentimes spark a resurgence in feelings of loss and pain. That is OK and they deserve the respect and space to sit with those feelings. Sometimes those feeling will be just as strong as the first days and months after losing a loved one.

The theory that there are stages of grief was largely debunked by many experts in the field of psychology. It is not a linear path: one day or moment you can be OK and the next moment or day, not so much.

Remember that it is OK to bow out of holiday gatherings. Be kind to yourself and listen to what feels right for you. If staying home and watching a movie that you and your loved one enjoyed watching together is what you want to do versus going to a holiday party, then do it.

Acknowledge that coming to terms with a loss is actual work

Coming to terms with losing someone just doesn’t get better with time; you have to work at it. As the International Grief Institute puts it, “the work of grief demands that you deal with all the feelings that loss engenders.” This can lead you to feeling depleted because this work takes both physical and emotional energy. Allow yourself to be human and not be a perfectionist during this time, as difficult as that might be.

Set limits

Many of us feel the need to do everything and be everything for everyone this time of year; don’t. You do not need to do all the cooking or buy all the presents or over commit yourself to gatherings. Tell you friends, family and most importantly, yourself that you are on a “stress reduction” plan. If they love you, they will understand.

Plan some alone time

So many people–even those who aren’t grieving– feel stressed by the pressure to spend time with family during the holidays. Everyone deserves the right to spend some time alone during this time to regroup. Some quiet time to yourself will help you no matter your circumstances. You are not selfish for taking that time. It is necessary.

Be kind to yourself

Always listen to yourself. You know what you need more than anyone else. However, isolating yourself completely is not going to be the best for your wellbeing either. If you’re not up to large gatherings, meet with loved ones and friends in a more intimate setting. Have a close friend over or go on a walk with them.

Celebrate life

Talking about your feelings and memories of your loved one helps. Don’t be afraid to share! Just by remembering your loved one, you are honoring them. There is no reason to feel guilty if you do feel moments of happiness during the holidays. You’re loved one would want that. You are not forgetting about your loss, but rather affirming that you value life. Something that they would want for you. As one article from the International Grief Institute put it, “survivorship means more than merely surviving; it means fully living.” So get out there and live! That is one of the best ways to honor your loved one.

Honor old traditions, create new ones

If some holiday traditions are just too painful or too overwhelming, that is OK too. Create new ones! Traditions or rituals are acts that we put meaning into. That meaning should make us feel good, not bad. If old traditions make you feel sad then do something entirely different. For example, volunteer or donate to your loved one’s favorite cause in their honor.

Looking for more advice?

Over the years, we have read and collected some insightful books on grief. Here are a couple of links to some reading that we think you will find helpful:

Former MFH Employee, Kim Shute, Publishes Book on Grief

Bethany Harvey: Author of “Dipped In It” Talks About Grief

Books on Grief

We are here to help

At Memorial Funeral Home, we are here for you if you need support. We have staff members who are very knowledgeable about grief and have been trained to offer help and resources.

Also, feel free to stop by the funeral home to pick up a free copy of “Grief and the Holidays” workbook.

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