December 8, 2017

Grieving during the holidays is natural. Major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year‘s, or other occasions such as the date of a birthday or anniversary or Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, can be especially stressful for those who have lost someone and may be facing the first major holiday.

At a time when everyone is supposed to be happy and enjoying themselves, the bereaved can feel sad, lonely and depressed.

10 Tips for Coping With Loss at the Holidays

Grieving during the holidays is natural. Major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah and New Year‘s, or other occasions such as the date of a birthday or anniversary or Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, can be especially stressful for those who have lost someone and may be facing the first major holiday.

At a time when everyone is supposed to be happy and enjoying themselves, the bereaved can feel sad, lonely and depressed.

It seems everywhere you turn there is something to break your heart a little more. Stores are decorated with the symbols of the holidays. Media, in all its forms, abounds with stories and songs of togetherness, love and sharing. Everyone you meet asks that question you dread hearing, “What are you doing for the holidays?” They cannot seem to wait for that special day to arrive. You can’t wait for it to be over.

The holidays do not have to be entirely sad. There are ways to help you cope with your grief during this time.

1. Planning Ahead

It is important to bring some forethought to the challenges you may encounter. Many who are grieving feel they would like to just go to sleep and wake up when the holidays are over. Instead, you can choose to be proactive.

Some questions to consider are:

  • What to do about traditions – forget them for this year, try them, or develop new ones?
  • Do I accept or decline party and dinner invitations?
  • What would be the best for me?
  • What would be best for the children?
  • Should a visit be made to the cemetery that day?
  • What about cooking and baking?
  • Should the house be decorated?
  • How will I ever get out of bed that morning?

Even though you may experience some emotional pain during the planning, it is helpful to do this. You will find that when the special time actually arrives, it is likely to be less painful than you anticipated.

Do not let these decisions make you feel worse. Choose to deal with a few at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself. Find a friend or friends to help you through.

2. Taking Care of Yourself

A grieving body is more susceptible to illness and needs proper nourishment and rest.

A few thoughts:

  • Get adequate rest – your body and mind need rest to recuperate.
  • Take a walk – exercise reduced stress and can increase your sense of well-being.
  • Eat a properly balanced diet – your body needs the strength and energy it will get from eating properly.
  • Limit the use of drugs and alcohol – excessive use of drugs or alcohol will only postpone the painful feelings, not eliminate them.
  • Communicate with others – be honest about your feelings and what you want.

3. Being Prepared

Expect some physical and emotional response to your loss. Although everyone’s grief is different, there are some responses that are commonly experienced by people who are grieving.


  • Lack of energy, difficulty sleeping
  • Headache, stomach distress
  • Difficulty breathing, muscle weakness
  • Chest pain, dry mouth, skin rash
  • Nervousness, over-activity
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in bowel pattern


  • Fear, guilt, anger
  • Shock, disbelief
  • Sadness, loneliness
  • Anxiety, crying, nightmares
  • Lack of concentration
  • Preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased.

4. It’s Okay to Feel Sad

The holidays are filled with unrealistic expectations of happiness and joy. Even people who have never experienced a major loss can feel pressures, depression and fatigue.

  • Accept that there will be times when you are sad and depressed.
  • Give yourself permission to feel.
  • You have every right to feel sad, depressed and anxious, or whatever emotions arise.
  • Be sure to be intentional about dealing with them.

5. It’s Okay to Feel Good

Remember too, to give yourself permission to feel good, to laugh and even to have fun.

  • Some bereaved individuals feel guilty if they find themselves enjoying an activity.
  • Feeling good and laughing are your body’s way of letting you relax and regain some strength for a few moments during your grief.
  • It is a normal and healthy response.
  • You are in no way being disrespectful to the memory of the deceased if you enjoy yourself at times.

6. Crying

Allow yourself to cry when you feel a need to cry. Ignore any advice you hear to be strong and not to cry.

  • Crying helps you both physically and emotionally.
  • It has an effect similar to exercise in that it reduces stress and calms anxiety.

7. Lower Expectations

Go easy on yourself. Remember you are going through a physically and emotionally stressful time. If you want the holidays to be the same as they always were, you are in for disappointment and frustration.

  • No matter what you do, you will not feel as joyous as you did in the past.
  • This doesn’t mean you still cannot enjoy the day, even smile and laugh.
  • It will take time for you to adjust – maybe years.

8. Confide in Someone

Find someone who will listen without feeling he or she must come up with answers to your problems.

  • What you need is someone who will listen to the words and stories that are bottled up inside you even it’s over and over again.
  • This could be a family member, friend, or member of the clergy.
  • Professional grief counselors are another excellent resource.

9. Holiday Activities

Perhaps more than any other time of year our calendars seem to be filled with a myriad of holiday invitations and activities. While staying active is important, not over doing it is equally as important.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Shopping:  If you feel you must shop, pick a time when the stores are not crowded, such as early in the morning when the stores first open. If going to stores to shop seems too difficult, try shopping online.
  • Sending Cards:  You mailing list can be shortened or even omitted this year. Decorations and holiday dinner preparations can be limited or even postponed.
  • Accepting Invitations:  Lower demands and expectations on yourself. You may not want to accept every invitation you receive or participate in all of your usual activities. However, if you find yourself declining all invitations and postponing all activities, push yourself to attend or participate in some events. You may enjoy them or actually feel comforted by them.

10. Traditions

Some of the most difficult aspects to deal with are “traditions.” A death in the family may mean that a much loved tradition may lose some of its joy. It may even be an end to that tradition. However, do not discount the possibility that new traditions can be started.

If you always host a meal on the holiday and serve the same food, try changing the menu. Or, you can ask someone else to act as host this year. Attend religious services at a different time or house of worship. Open gifts at a different time or location. Some have found that going away on a short trip during the holidays are a welcomed change.

Memorialize your loved one in a way that is meaningful to you. Choosing an activity that your loved one would have approved of can make it even more meaningful. An activity that the entire family can participate in can strengthen the bonds of togetherness and sharing. However, it is also appropriate for individual family members to create a memorial activity that is personal and private – something that is between just them and the deceased.

For your consideration:

  • Purchase a small evergreen tree from a nursery, decorate it and replant it after the holiday
  • Light special memorial candles each day during the holidays or use one large candle and light it each day
  • Take time with the family to share memories of your loved one
  • Offer a dinner prayer or toast to your loved one
  • Purchase a gift for your loved one, then donate it
  • Donate to a charity in honor or memory of your loved one*
  • Celebrate a holiday on another day
  • Focus on helping others; volunteer at a local non-profit organization.

* Gifts made to Community VNA during the month of December add silver stars with the names of loved ones to our Holiday Tree of Life & Remembrance, and support the compassionate care given by the Hospice and Palliative Care Program of Community VNA. Make your donation securely online.

Remember, there is no single script on how to cope best with holiday grief. You only need to listen inwardly to do what is best for you.

Many people are not aware that their local community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. One of the benefits of Hospice is an extended period of bereavement support. Please contact Community VNA Hospice Care for help if you are struggling. Call 508.222.0118, or 1.800.220.0110.

Community VNA Hospice offers bereavement and grief support programs at no charge for our hospice families, as well as for the community at large. We offer information and support programs for adults and specialized support programs for children.

To learn more about Community VNA’s Hospice Bereavement & Grief Support services, click here.

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