Handling Loss During the Holidays

Handling Loss During the Holidays

The holidays can bring more sadness than joy when a loved one is missing from the celebration. Please know that whatever feelings you have about your loss, they are normal and valid. There are also ways you can manage these emotions in order to still enjoy parts of the season.


The most important aspect of grieving during the holidays is to understand that grief is an expression of love. You loved your family member or friend and wish he or she was still here—that’s completely understandable. Bottling up your feelings is not healthy, and the people in your life do not expect you to do so. Rather, you can find ways to embrace both love and loss that help you heal and involve others as much as you wish.


Manage Grief in Your Own Way

When it comes to holiday gatherings and traditions, do what feels best to you. You can participate in and keep traditions going, skip them for a year or two or create new ones.


If giving yourself some space is comforting, do that. Don’t force celebratory gatherings or seasonal obligations that upset you or make you feel awkward. Let someone know that you’re just not feeling up to it this year and do something different instead—like watching a favorite holiday movie or creating an online tribute to your loved one. Taking time to heal and finding what works for you to get through the holidays is perfectly fine.


Some find that carrying on traditions feels like they’re keeping lost loved ones a part of the season. On the other hand, carrying on the same traditions may magnify the loss, especially if your loved one had a significant role in the activity or was the one who started it.


Create New Traditions

New traditions, though, allow you to continue his or her legacy while managing your feelings of loss. Family members and friends want to support you during this time and will be glad to try new activities that bring you joy and honor the memory of your loved one. You can still value the traditions of the past while creating new experiences in order to move forward.


The following are ideas of how you might honor the memory of a loved one during the holidays, either privately or with a group:

  • Light a candle
  • Say a special prayer at worship services and/or before a holiday meal
  • Share memories or funny stories of past holidays
  • Create remembrance ornaments or trees
  • Prepare his or her favorite holiday dishes
  • Listen to or sing favorite holiday songs
  • Visit a place where you feel close to your loved one
  • Give to a meaningful charity in his or her memory
  • Volunteer with a group or organization that he or she supported


Here is a complete list of ideas for creating new holiday traditions in remembrance of a loved one. (Link https://whatsyourgrief.com/creating-new-tradition-after-a-death/ to the bold text.)


Cope in Healthy Ways

Sometimes feelings of loss during the holidays go beyond grieving and become painful, perhaps resulting in destructive behavior. If this is the case, find healthy ways to cope with these emotions, such as joining a support group or visiting with a therapist. Communicate regularly with family members and friends about your feelings and avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, skipping meals or completely withdrawing from social scenes.


Help Those Who are Grieving

If someone you care about has recently lost a loved one, there are ways that you can help him or her navigate the season. The go-to reaction is to ask what he or she needs, but that’s not always the best approach as many people don’t want to impose and may not know what they need. Instead of asking, find ways to reach out by extending invitations, giving special gifts, making charitable donations in memory of a lost loved one or just stopping by for a visit.

Don’t worry about saying the right thing or making everything better—rather, show your support by listening. The bereaved need to know it’s okay to talk about loss and their loved ones. The healing process may take years, so realize that there is no normal allotted time for grieving. Don’t offer any suggestions about how to deal with loss; simply focus on providing a caring presence.


Focus on Love

Whether you or someone you know is missing a special person this year, remember the season is about love, and there are numerous ways to show that, both in memory and in support. Healing takes place in many forms and fashions, so do what works best for your situation and offers the most comfort. The holidays may not be the same, but that’s okay. Heritage is an ongoing process, so holiday traditions can always change to allow you to show love in ways that are meaningful and enjoyable this year and for years to come.

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