Grief and the Holidays

Therapist in Bethesda, MD

With the holidays around the corner, I recognize that many of my clients are facing a new challenge – spending a special time of year without a loved one.  The loss of this loved one could be through death, of course, but also through divorce, separation, alienation, or even having a child move out.  Grief results from loss of any kind and is your response to making sense of life without a loved one. The loss is never more apparent than when facing a holiday tradition without them.  The following are some small steps you can make to make this time a little less difficult:

  1. Be prepared.  Think through the holidays and plan for support during the times that you feel will be especially difficult.  The times in which you found the most joy in the past, may bring about the most pain this year due to the absence of your loved one.  Make sure that you have loved ones nearby or a phone call away to offer that shoulder you might need.
  2. Change things up a bit. If you feel that following through on old traditions might be too difficult, allow yourself permission (it might just be for one year) to substitute the tradition with something different.  For example, if you always went caroling with the person you lost, perhaps go volunteer at a homeless shelter instead.  You are still spending the time doing something for others, but the memories and pain may not flood you quite so significantly.  I have known some people who decide to change things significantly and plan a trip away or who don’t celebrate at all – no choice is wrong as long as you feel some relief in how you choose to handle the pain.
  3. Honor your loved one.  If you can emotionally manage it, take the time to remember your loved one and honor their memory.  Perhaps this can be a small gesture like sharing happy memories with others or recognizing the loved one you lost in a prayer.  Or, it can be a larger gesture like donating money to a favorite cause in their name or hanging their stocking and putting their favorite things in it – only to share these later with other ones who feel the loss as well.
  4. Keep expectations of yourself and the holiday season within reason.  This won’t be an easy holiday particularly if it is your first one without your loved one.  Allow yourself to lay low and take care of yourself. Party hopping and shopping may be beyond what you are capable of right now.  Remind yourself that it is okay to not do everything this year – that it is okay to feel sad or angry or however you are feeling despite the holidays being a festive time for many.

Grief is different for everyone and what works for one person might not be the solution for others.  Try to take care of yourself by assessing what you will need and honor your loved one by loving yourself this season.