How to Cope with Grief during the Holidays

Written by: Amber Moreman Sargent, M.S.W.
How to Cope with Grief during the Holidays

The holidays are “supposed to” bring joy and peace, but many people do not have that experience as they are coping with the loss of a loved one. No matter when the loss occurred, the holidays can be an exceptionally challenging time period for people whose lives have been changed by death of a loved one.

The stages of grief – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance – do not always happen in linear order. The holidays can be a solemn reminder of this fact as many people experience these stages of grief anew with the changing of seasons, though they thought they may have reached the “acceptance” stage.

It is particularly important to focus on self-care and understanding your needs as you go through this challenging time. The below are tips to help make it through the holidays when you are grieving a loved one:

  • Make sure to meet your basic needs.
  • Honor past traditions that you and your loved one shared and make new memories.
  • Give back to others.
  • Reflect on things you are grateful for – keep a gratitude journal.
  • Make your loved one’s favorite dessert or food.
  • Set healthy boundaries and expectations of yourself.
  • Communicate these clearly to yourself and others.
  • Make a Plan A and Plan B for events and demands on your time and energy.
  • Honor your loved one:
    • Set a place for them at the table.
    • Light a candle for them.
    • Say a prayer for them.
    • Make/buy a memorial ornament.
    • Make a favorite recipe of your loved one’s.
    • Watch a holiday movie/show that they loved.
    • Hang a stocking in memory of your loved one and write notes to put inside.
    • Make a donation in their memory to a cause that they cared about.
    • Volunteer for a cause that they cared about.
  • Take a mindfulness walk outside.
  • Accept and allow yourself to feel both the positive and negative emotions that arise.
  • Consider if you are using any negative coping strategies to mask your feelings: over socializing, drinking/smoking, overeating, working too much, etc.

If you feel as though you cannot go on and are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm, call or text 988, to connect to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.