Grief During the Holidays

Author:  Morgan Blair – MA, Intern  

verified by Psychology Today

Every year closes with an endless abundance of expectations. From holiday parties, to decorations, to family gatherings, to concerts, shows, shopping, gifts, donations, and so much more.  It is normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. The holidays are a time of year where we need to offer extra attention to taking care of our own mental health. Taking moments to breathe and recharge are essential to enjoying this busy time of year.

But what if you don’t want to enjoy the holidays? What if you have been dreading these awful weeks for months? What if things inevitably will not be the same this year?

Grieving during the holidays comes with its own set of challenges. Not only is this a time of year packed full with expectations of happiness and excitement, but you are truly not in a place where you feel you can lean into those emotions. We live in a world where it feels nearly impossible to slow down. Add in the holiday season and – well – things are only going to feel busier.

Around every corner is another invitation, another concert, another pie to bake, another family gathering, the list goes on and on. For those who are grieving during this season, all of these events,tasks, and gatherings can begin to bury you in resentment, sadness, and depression. All you want is your loved one back but here you are being bombarded with a million reminders that they are not with you this year.

The holidays are full of memories. Each year as families get together, we begin to reminiscence on past celebrations. However, when a loved one that used to be around is no longer sitting at the table this is a painful part of this season to face. After all, the idea that “holidays are spent with loved ones” was imprinted on our minds from a young age.

Holidays are a time that marks milestones and the passage of time. Relatives that you might not see very often come out of the woodwork and suddenly you are brought back to the last time everyone was together. If holidays are focused on the importance of family, how then can someone who has lost a loved one get through this season?

My answer is, gently. Be gentle with yourself and take it moment by moment because if you begin to think about the entire season at once then you are going to overwhelm yourself with all the expectations.

 

I put together this helpful little list for anyone experiencing grief this season to reference whenever times are especially hard.

  1. Decline the invite – whether they understand or not, if a certain event is going to be too painful you have the right to say no. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. There shouldn’t be any pressure on someone who lost a loved one to attend every single gathering they are invited to. That is simply too emotionally exhausting.
  2. Leave a place at the table – a common feeling among those grieving during the holidays is that everyone else has moved on or forgotten about their loved one. Whether this is the case or not, it can feel especially painful to assume that your loved one isn’t a part of the day anymore. So, make sure they are. Set a place for them at the table. Put up a picture of them on the wall. Place a present for them underneath the tree. Don’t leave them out of the experience because you know that they’re still very present within your heart.
  3. Forget the decorating or baking – if you can’t, then don’t, and don’t feel bad about it. You don’t have to be 100% this holiday season. You don’t have to decorate or bake a million cookies or have a million presents underneath the tree. Focus, instead, on being able to get through each day without completely exhausting yourself. If you have young children, then maybe compromise. Be honest with them in sharing that you are sad this year and things may be a little different. Maybe choose one type of cookie to make or one room to decorate, but don’t overdo it. It won’t do your children or yourself any good.
  4. Make new traditions – things are going to be different. This is the painful truth that comes alongside loss. The holidays will feel and look different than they have in years past. It might be helpful to try out a new holiday tradition. Just one thing, one simple task or event or activity that doesn’t have any previous connotations. Do something that doesn’t have to remind you of the last time you did it with the loved one that has passed. This doesn’t mean that you are replacing them. This simply means that you are working towards making it through the holidays in the best way you know how.
  5. Cry – yes, cry, and be sad and grieve and lay in bed and listen to your loved one’s favorite songs because you are not going to do yourself any favors by trying to pretend that your loved one isn’t gone.

Let yourself grieve this holiday season because the pain you feel is a testament to just how much the person you lost meant to you.

 

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201512/how-deal-grief-during-the-holidays

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/coping-with-grief-and-loss-during-the-holidays-201112244028

https://www.verywellhealth.com/getting-through-the-holidays-1132547

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm

https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/10/coping-grief