How to Cope with Grief & Loss During the Holiday Season

When we think of the holiday season, we're supposed to be flooded with those warm, fuzzy feelings that you typically experience growing up. You think about the glittering of Christmas lights, crispy latkes, or even just a warm glass of cider after Thanksgiving dinner.

A time that's so centered around family and togetherness, however, can be particularly painful for those who are coping with grief and a loss. This is particularly true if it's your first holiday season missing a loved one.

We won't sugarcoat it: We know that the holiday season can be nearly excruciating sometimes when you're grieving a loss. There are steps you can take to make the situation easier to manage, and hopefully maybe even find some joy. 

Let's take a look at what you can do to get through the holiday season while you're grieving someone you love. 

Know that It Gets Easier & That It's Okay to Grieve 

First thing's first: This is hard. We know that this is hard, especially since the sun sets earlier, it's too cold to spend much time outside, and there's such an enormous emphasis on family and joy.

grief during the holidays

It's okay if you aren't okay right now, and if you're just not in the holiday spirit. Grieving is painful, but the only way to heal is to work through it. And while it's never easy, it does get easier. You can sit this holiday season out if you need to, and keep yourself busy with other things (including work, hobbies, and even a house project or two) if needed. 

Surround Yourself with a Support System 

It's easy to feel extremely alone when you're grieving a loss of someone you loved, whether it's a parent, spouse, child, sibling, or even a close friend or pet. You can find yourself feeling even more isolated during the holidays, especially if you previously celebrated with the loved one you lost.

Reach out to your support system, and spend time with them. It doesn't have to be for gift exchanges or for holiday events if that feels too hard right now, but it can also have an enormous emphasis on gift giving and holiday celebrations if that's what you need! Just make sure that you feel the comfort of those who care about you. 

coping with loss during the holidays

If you haven't considered a grief support group but think that one could benefit you right now, find a local group to join. It will be full of people who understand exactly what you're going through, and you may make new friends to stay busy with. 

Keep Traditions Alive... If You Choose To 

Does the home feel empty without a Christmas tree or a menorah center stage in your living room? Are your children determined to still set out cookies and milk for Santa? 

Don't feel guilty about celebrating any way that you choose to, even if the person you lost was an integral part of those traditions. 

And if you need to pause traditions, change them, or disregard them entirely, that's okay, too. If hanging lights outdoors feels like too much, maybe a quick Santa plugin or just a small mini tree inside is a good way to go.

coping with loss during the holidays

What traditions you keep and dismiss depends entirely on what will bring you comfort and what will cause more hurt.

You'll also need to take family members into account; an older couple who isn't in the mood to celebrate Thanksgiving because they always celebrated with her mother can skip the holiday relatively easily. A family who has young children who crave normalcy and the "specialness" of the holidays while they're grieving, on the other hand, may end up giving more into traditions. 

Find a Positive Way to Celebrate Their Memory 

Finding ways to celebrate the memory of those you miss most and to keep them with you during the holidays can bring comfort. 

Maybe that means putting up a strand of lights near a mantle where some of their photos remain, or to find a tree ornament that reminds you of the person that you love. 

coping with grief during the holiday season

Be with people who will share memories of the person you lost, and who will be happy to honor them. Light a candle in their name, make their favorite dessert for every holiday, and hang their stocking if any or all of it feels right. 

Say No When You Need To 

Maybe going to a friend's Christmas party is exactly what you need right now... but maybe it's only. Only you can decide that.

A recently bereaved widower might struggle to attend a Christmas party that's full of happy couples, which can be very different than spending low-key, low-pressure time with close friends. 

Set boundaries as needed, and say no whenever you need to. No to parties, no to gift exchanges, no to neighborhood block events. Go to what you feel comfortable attending; even if you don't stay long, it could be great for you. But don't feel about about skipping anything else. Everyone will understand. 

Consider Doing Something Kind for Others 

Sometimes we really do need a distraction and something to keep us busy after a loved one passes. Joining a local club or support group can be a good start, but finding activities outside of even those can be useful.

Some who are grieving during the holidays find it beneficial to help others. Whether this is volunteering at a local shelter, fostering a pet, or participating in a church fundraiser, there are typically plenty of things you can do during the fall and winter seasons to keep you busy while giving back. 

coping with grief during the holidays

Please note that you shouldn't feel obligated to do this. Taking care of yourself is the priority right now. But if you think it could help you, do some research and see what you might be interested in. 

Final Thoughts 

The holiday season can be stressful even under the best of circumstances, but it can become lonely and painful when you're also grieving a loss. Remember to be kind to yourself and to take it day by day no matter what you choose to do to celebrate (or not). 

And remember, because this is important: It does get easier. 

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