20 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After a Loss

Holiday season is just about here. While most of us look forward to this festive and sparkly time of year, many of us experience complicated feelings during the winter holidays. It’s a time we reflect back on the year…and the years. For some folks, this inevitably means reflecting on loss of loved ones. With that in mind, here are some tips for grieving gracefully during the holidays.

1. Give some careful thought to traditions – which to keep, which to change. Don’t be afraid to stick to what you’ve always done, if that’s what feels right. But it’s also okay to switch things around.
2. Similarly, consider changing up the location. It may be nice to spend a holiday away. Or, it may be a comfort to stay in the usual location.
3. Discuss holiday plans with others who will be involved. Inevitably, not everyone will want to cope with loss during the holidays in the same way. Try to be tolerant, supportive, and flexible.
4. Holiday music brings lots of comforting and happy memories for many people. Listen to music that reminds you of your loved one.
5. Light a candle nightly during the season for your lost loved one.
6. Make a special holiday dish that your loved one enjoyed or always cooked (and be kind to yourself if it doesn’t taste the same as hers).
7. Skip holiday events if you are feeling overwhelmed.
8. Make an ornament or special craft in memory of your lost loved one.
9. Reach out to family/friends you have lost touch with through a holiday note or calling to say hello.
10. Bundle up and take a walk in the cold. Some feel closest to a lost loved one when in nature.
11. Get out photo albums and look at old photos.
12. Attend a grief support group. It’s nice to sit with people who get it.
13. Give to a charity that was important to your loved one.
14. Find a way to be thankful every day. Even if it’s the tiniest thing – the morning sunlight, a comforting hug from your spouse, a delicious gingerbread cookie – remembering to be thankful brings perspective and peace in times when it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the negative.
15. Skip (or minimize) holiday decorations if you’re just not up to it. They’ll be in the closet, right where you left them, for next year.
16. Accept help from those who offer. Ask for help if you can. Getting help with cooking, shopping, or decorating will reduce some of the worst holiday stress.
17. Be mindful with food, be mindful with booze. Both are an easy (too easy) holiday comfort. Before you eat the cheesecake or drink the eggnog, ask yourself “Is this really what I need right now? Is there a better way to get my need met?”
18. Shop online and skip the mall. Malls during December make just about everyone stressed.
19. Don’t overcommit. Give yourself permission to prioritize, cut back, and simplify.
20. Remember, everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way. All feelings are okay. Accept sadness. Cry if you feel like crying. Embrace happiness and laughter if/when it comes.

Paige Fegan, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist