7 Ways to Go Easy on Yourself While Grieving at the Holidays

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7 Ways to Go Easy on Yourself While Grieving at the Holidays

1. Remember, the holidays don’t have to be perfect:

Disavow yourself of the notion that perfection will protect you from experiencing grief and sadness this holiday season. It will not. No matter how tender you cook your brisket or how elegantly you set your holiday table – someone is missing, and this devastating reality is a constant.

Also, you don’t have to be perfect to prove anything to anyone else.  People commonly feel they have to put on a brave face to convince others they are doing well, but it’s especially common to struggle with grief this time of year – regardless of how long ago your loss occurred. So if you’re off your holiday-game, you have a good excuse. Own it. 

In the end, “perfection” is way overrated anyway.  As we wrote in our article New Perspectives on Old Traditions:

“In reflecting on holidays past what’s more likely to make you smile – the holiday when you had spaghetti for dinner because the dog ate the roast or the year everything went as planned? When it comes to family, imperfection is perfection. Working together to get through the holidays despite inescapable flaws will help deepen family bonds and create a supportive environment for grief and remembrance.”


2. Be intentional but flexible about tradition:

Tradition is incredibly important and so it’s a tender spot for many grieving people. Tradition provides a sense of comfort and security, it’s a tie that binds the past to the present, and it bonds people on Earth to those they love who have died. But after a death, it’s usually something that has to change.

Breaking tradition feels like succumbing to yet another loss so there’s often resistance around making changes. Many try to keep everything the same, but this often makes the loved one’s absence even more glaring because the only difference is that they aren’t there.

An important question to ask as a family is, how do we honor tradition while also allowing it to change? For every family, the answer will be different, but one place to start is to focus on why you participate in the tradition in the first place.

What is the value at the heart of your ritual? Togetherness, generosity, shared history, spirituality? Quite often, you’ll find that it’s okay for some of the ‘what’ to change, so long as you still connect with the ‘why.’


3. Practice saying “No”:

From November to January, commitments, pressures, and stressors tend to increase for everyone. As someone who is grieving, you have the added challenge of dealing with loss and change, which means you have less physical, emotional, and mental energy to go around.

If you know you are someone who says yes to every invitation, committee, and volunteer position, you may want to try and say ‘no’ a little more these next few weeks. We’re not suggesting you opt-out of everything, rather you prioritize the most important commitments over the activities and events you probably won’t mind missing.

Resist the temptation to overbook to stay busy or to say “I’m fine” and brush your grief aside. Be honest with yourself  (and others) that things are a little different this year. In order to take good care of yourself and those you care about, you may need to take it easy – and that’s okay! 


4. Schedule “Me” time:

So, now that you’re saying ‘NO’ more judiciously, we want you to re-invest some of that time in your own well-being. Work specific coping activities into your weekly calendar and plan for time-outs during busy activities and gatherings.


5. Utilize your resources and ask for help:

You’re not in this alone, though it may sometimes feel like you are.  Even if you don’t have family and friends you can count on, there are services and groups in your community that can hopefully help you make it through. For example, some ways you can look to your support system and local community for help include:

  • Asking someone else to host the holiday gathering
  • Asking family and friends for help with menu items
  • Having parts of the holiday meal catered
  • Doing all your shopping online
  • Having friends over to help you decorate
  • Making an appointment with your therapist prior to and/or just after the holidays
  • Visiting a support group

If you aren’t sure what help you need, try our article Thanks for the Offer, But I Don’t Know What I Need. If you know what you need, but aren’t sure how to ask for help, try Helping Your Friends Help YouAnd if you have no time for subtly, just send your support system the article 8 Tips for Supporting a Grieving Friend This Holiday.


6. Allow yourself to experience moments of comfort and joy

First of all, please know that whatever you’re feeling right now is okay. Experiencing positive emotions during the holidays is never a given, especially when you’re grieving. All we are saying is if you do surprise yourself by laughing at Buddy the Elf or smiling at the grandkids unabashed joy on Christmas morning, go with it and don’t feel guilty.

Experiencing things like okay-ness, comfort, happiness, gratitude, and joy can feel like a betrayal to deceased loved ones – but it’s not. And I don’t say this because I simply know your loved one would want you to be happy (I have no way of knowing that, though I’m sure they would). Rather I say this because emotions are not either-or and you can feel far more than one thing at a time. Things like laughter and warmth, for example, don’t cancel out your sadness.  


7. Find opportunities to connect with your loved one:

One of the best ways to cope with the pain of missing a loved one at the holidays is to find ways to connect with them and to incorporate their memory into your holiday gatherings and celebrations. 

Though it can feel isolating when others don’t want to recognize the loss in the same way you do, try not to feel too discouraged if those you plan to spend the holidays with aren’t also open to connecting with your loved one in the same way you like. Studies show that private rituals can be just as, if not more, healing than larger remembrances. 

For thoughts on ways to honor and connect with your loved one over the holidays, try the following articles:

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December 12, 2019

19 responses on "7 Ways to Go Easy on Yourself While Grieving at the Holidays"

  1. Holidays and special days are very difficult. I had the sudden loss of my husband, November 28, 2014. It was five years this November which was Thanksgiving day. I got through Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to do Christmas or the holidays but my two sons encouraged me to continue the tradition. I enjoyed Christmas and bringing in the New Year 2020, but I know nothing will ever be the same. I miss my husband and our time together and all we shared together. I got through the holidays but something was missing and always will be missing. I keep telling myself that I have to begin anew but at the moment I still feel the pain deep down inside, I smile and go on, it’s like having a wound that is trying to heal but it is taking so much time. I am very hard on myself.
    My heart goes out to all who are grieving as I fully understand what you are going through.
    Thank you for this website so that I could express my deepest feelings.

  2. I just came across this link and scrolling down the page reading everyone’s story about losing someone special to them is so sad.
    A year ago I lost my 19 year old son from an overdose of tainted drugs with fentanyl. My heart is so broken. I can’t seem to find happiness without him in my life. Losing a child is the worst pain a person can go through. Anyone have any suggestions on what may help me through this time?

  3. My wife and soul mate, Janie, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack while I was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. My daughter was i actually on her way to the airport to pick up two of her sisters and two nieces when this happened. They all were coming to support me because of the recent heart surgery. They did not find out about my wife until they returned from the airport. Fortunately, a dear friend of ours was here when my wife came into the room and collapsed on the kitchen floor. She called 911 and when the ambulance arrived they tried to revive her twice with no success. They tried to revive her again at the ER to no avail. She was taken to the cardiac ICU which was on the same floor in the same hospital where I was recovering. The ICU was on the same floor where I was. She was placed on a ventilator but in reality we all believe that she passed on the kitchen floor. The ventilator gave the impression that she was still breathing however, after a brain scan was completed there was no brain activity and my daughter my son and myself agreed t together to remove her from the remove the ventilator. as her quality of life would have been zero and the doctor told us that she would probably be on dialysis for the rest of her life. My precious Janie and soulmate went to meet with her Lord and Savior at 9:07 PM and 14 August. I was holding her hand when she took her final breath. She was surrounded by family and myself. My son, Shane, came to live with me to support me and he has been a tremendous help. Janie and I had 51 years together and I miss her terribly. I have a good days and bad days and my grieving continues. It’s just been a little over four months since she ppassed and It’s been a day by day struggle for me. I live in Florida in a 55+ community in there are three widows who recently lost their husbands and they also have been tremendous support to me as they know full well what I’m going through. I viewed your video and also read some of the comments made by others are going through this grieving process. Thank you for your tips and I will try to incorporate them into my life. ( I have been experiencing a lot of trouble with my Internet service so I do hope that you receive this post)

    • Adrienne R- AustraliaDecember 25, 2019 at 2:44 amReply

      Ken what a tragic loss for you and your family. I hope you all stay close and support each other over Christmas and beyond. I can tell by the way you described the unfolding of events how deeply you were connected to your wife. From across these miles Iam sending wishes of hope and peace and that your grief will ease with every day.

  4. I’ve been coping with the possibility of my own death (they’re desperately trying to stop me from getting breast cancer at 52) and being face with a possibility of my own death has exacerbated all the other deaths of loved ones, especially the one where he was murdered by a terrorist who never knew him and he never knew his killer.
    Having to think about my own death right now has made me even more sensitive to others’ passing.
    IDK why but I don’t feel “ready to meet the Lord “ at this time. But upon further reflection II have to admit: I can’t think of a time that I will be ready for that.
    It did OTOH make me grateful for things I’d never even thought about before this cancer scare became real. Like one time, I was grateful I could hear the rain, because it meant I was alive to hear it.
    That was before the operation in which they extracted what they had found in me to find out if it was cancerous.

  5. This is year 3 of my grief journey; my husband died suddenly 3 years ago – I came home and found him on our living room floor deceased. Needless to say, it has been extremely difficult to cope with such a loss; I now have PTSD because I found him and just the sight of this precious man that I loved laying motionless and stiff in front of me. July through December are difficult for me because his birthday is in July, he died in August, our wedding anniversary is in November, Thanksgiving and Christmas round it out. I’m blessed to have family that supports me; I had to leave our home because I couldn’t afford to stay there after he died. I currently live with my youngest daughter, her husband and my granddaughter. So glad I’m not alone during this time; yet, even in a room full of people, I still feel so alone sometimes. I tend to beat myself up if I have to shut down or if I’m not my normal, ‘there-for-everybody’ self. I’m really glad I found this site, lots of great information and support. At this point in my journey, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel; I just know that I miss my husband and there is an ache in my heart that I haven’t been able to get rid of. I just continue to take it (some days) an hour at a time……

  6. My husband, age 43, killed himself just over a month ago. We had plenty of great times, as we were together for 21 1/2 years, but unfortunately I’m finding that the bad times are the ones that stick out most to me. I can’t seem to allow the good memories to outshine the bad ones. The bad ones were soooo bad! He suffered from PTSD, depression and the most crippling anxiety!
    The last 7 years, these had just gotten worse! Seven years ago, I thought the worst possible thing that could ever happen, happened. My husband (boyfriend at the time) was the victim of a devastating fire. Devastating not only to us, and the others who witnessed it. Friends went away, because they couldn’t look at him, knowing they did nothing to help. His depression deepened, and he took it out on me and his mother, as we were his support system. He began using drugs he’d never done before, using the excuse that “it is the only thing that takes the pain away”. I tried to be understanding of his suffering, yet I was suffering too! I faithfully took him to his therapy appointments, weekly, for over 12 years! I let his doctors know when he was having thoughts of self-harm, and when he made attempts, at least 5 times since the fire. They didn’t seem to think he was at risk.
    He spent the last 7 years of his life lying to me, and to himself, about how bad it really was. I’m also learning that he spent the first 14 years lying to me too! The horrible things that I’ve found out since he’s died are ruining any chance I have to have a positive memory of the man I loved for my entire adult life. I feel like no matter how many of my friends and family members surround me with their love and healing, nobody truly understands how I’m feeling.
    I want to be who I was before him, a whole person who doesn’t have another’s issues running their life. I am tired of pushing people away, as that was always his thing, not mine. I’m done saying no to invitations, I’ve finally began saying yes again. I find myself wanting, in some way to forget he was part of my life. I know it sounds bad, but I am 41 years old, and have the rest of my life to continue living. I refuse to sit in the dark and grieve for something that didn’t make me happy.
    His death has been somewhat of a relief for me, as I no longer have his dark cloud hanging over me. I am grieving very differently than the other people in his life. I think I have grief guilt. I think his mom might see me going out, having fun and enjoying life and think I am somehow disgracing his memory. But she doesn’t know what I’ve found out. And she doesn’t need to. I just hope I’m not screwing myself up more feeling this way.
    Sorry for the rant.

    • Go easy on you, Emily! Your grief journey is yours and yours alone… there is no wrong way to grieve and you are absolutely entitled to love, joy and light going forward. Peace.

    • Emily, give yourself time. As was noted, not everybody’s grief journey is the same & neither are relationships. Your relationship with your husband was unique. One of the first things you said was you had a lot of good times together. You are still in shock and it has made it even more difficult hearing more negative things immediately after his death. Make a point to remember the good memories and to let go of the bad. You do have the rest of your life ahead of you. Make it a positive one! Cut yourself some slack. This too shall pass. I promise! 😊

  7. I Lost My 36 yr old Wife On 11-14-19 and this has been the worst pain I’ve ever felt when losing a loved one. I lost my dad almost 3 yrs ago and this pain is alot worse than that not saying I didnt hurt after my dad passed but this loss is killing me on the inside. This is the 1st Christmas without my wife and my sons mother and I seem to hit brick walls nightly. She suffered from Huntingtons Disease and the I took care of her and keep her home throughout her journey thru the last 12 yrs and I’m grateful for that. But after 20 yrs this horrible disease took away my family and everything we worked hard on for the past 20 yrs. But I know shes in that Unexplainable Beautiful place that she told me about yes its comforting to know but the pain from the loss is sometimes unbearable. Thank You for sharing and allowing us grievers to share our messages!

  8. I have just lost my dad it’s only been a week and I still feel in shock. The funeral is the Friday before Christmas. I don’t want to go out or get dressed I am being sick a lot through anxiety. Is this normal?

    • Katie, what your experiencing is normal for you. There is no set pattern for how you are meant to grieve for those we have lost. No time is a good time to feel this pain but Christmas is especially hard because you are around those that are full of festive cheer. I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my dad in 2012 and mum in 2017. The challenges of Christmas never go away and people will move on and forget but embrace the memories and right now feel your grief don’t put it on hold as it’s like a snowball it will keep building until you let it out. I know there is nothing I can say to make this pain go away but just keep taking deep breaths and I promise you will be okay, a little piece of you missing but okay.

  9. my husband died suddenly 8 weeks ago so this is my ‘first’ i feel very lucky that i have such supportive children my youngest daughter is coming down with 3 of my 6 grandchildren . i know that Roger would want us to celebrate christmas for the kids . Roger’s daughter ( we are a 3rd time lucky marriage for both of us – 10 years) does not want to go to her in-laws so will be coming over and we will probably visit Roger’s grave in the afternoon. I believe Roger will be there in spirit . julie

  10. My daughter died two years ago at42. She struggled with drugs her whole life and died of a drug overdose. I had a few good memories throughout her life but there were many more bad ones. Many times I feel like my case is so much different than others . I miss what I hoped would some day be different.

    • Daniela, my 17 yo sister died in 1969, under questionable medical treatment, resulting from taking tainted drugs at the original Woodstock concert. My parents, and my other sister and I were given little to no support from the church and our extended family. Trust me when I tell you that the grief and social abandonment can be devestating. I urge you to reach out to any local support groups in your area, find a grief counselor, protect yourself from those who have already shown judgement or shaming, and to do so quickly… even if all you do is call a hotline or your employer’s ERP. Keep at it until you have a safe tribe to help you, and (perhaps temporarily) exclude any others who are either no help or who try to prevent you from seeking professional help. In her finer moments, your daughter wanted you to have peace, as much as she wanted it for herself. She just didn’t know how to create it. You are not alone. Find your people. Sending love and comfort. ~Rita

  11. Thank you! This was a tremendous help!

  12. This is helpful as well to the people whose children have moved on and decided to celebrate ( or not at all) the season without the extended family. It’s stressful to be in a situation that doesn’t feel welcoming . One can’t insist on old tradition if no one else is interested. Be happy we had the happy memories of the past. Move on to create new tradition and happy memories with less stress.

  13. Our 29 year old son passed away in June from an 11 year long autoimmune illness. He and I were soulmates…I don’t think there was ever one person in the world who understood me like he did – or I him. His illness was horrible – but he was a strong kid – and able to make the decision to end his life when we all knew there would be no hope. I just realized that his death date is always going to be the day after Christmas. Wow. That’s an eye opener. Just wow. I’ve always had trouble with depression during the holidays and this obviously takes the cake. I’ve allowed myself not to feel guilty about not putting up a tree this year, I haven’t played Christmas music or watched our favorite Christmas show “A Christmas Story”, I have no decorations out, no big plans for Christmas dinner…heck, it might be hotdogs. No big family get together planned (our family is now very small – so there’s no one else really). I feel like I should be doing something because we do have a remaining young adult son, his brother, whom we love to the moon and back but I can’t summon up enough energy to make it good for anyone – not this year. His girlfriend has a big family and I’ll be happy if they should decide to have Christmas day there where there will be no obvious loss like there will be here at our home. I envy everyone else their lovely Christmas plans, new grandbabies, kids coming in from out of town, big family get togethers….while I’m just. trying. to. make. it. though.. With a smile, and as much grace as I possibly can conjure up. I’ve hear the 2nd Christmas is the worst…not the first. Seems like the first is pretty bad though…..

  14. Mary Wrenshall RickettsDecember 12, 2019 at 7:46 amReply

    This was very helpful!

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