Grief, Loss & the Holidays: Coping and Healing During “The Most Wonderful Time of Year”

By Jenna Caldwell, MA, MFT-C

The holiday season is traditionally a time of celebration and joy. However, for those of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the grief and pain associated with loss can be especially difficult during the festivities. Over 36% of Americans report that they don’t look forward to celebrating the holidays due to feelings of grief and loss (Experience Camps, 2021). Additionally, due to societal stigma surrounding grief and its nonlinear nature of the healing process, we can encounter silent grief compelling us to endure pain in solitude, deepening our sense of isolation during the season (Pitman et al., 2018).

We will explore ways to cope with loss during the season and find moments of solace, connection, and healing.

Prioritize Yourself and Set Realistic Expectations

Take time to acknowledge your feelings and ask yourself,

“How do I feel in this moment?”

“What feelings are come up during the holidays?”

“What is my body telling me?”

Reflect on the emotions that surface and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Grant yourself the space to grieve and suspend any judgments about what you’re experiencing. Remember, it’s completely normal to feel sadness, anger, and even guilt during this time. Know that it’s okay to have challenging emotions emerge amidst the festivities.

The holidays also often come with high expectations of participating in festivities, but it’s important to set realistic ones when you’re grieving. Give yourself permission to say no and prioritize yourself.

Now is a crucial time for you to take care of your physical and emotional well-being. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating foods that nourish you, and finding time for relaxation. Consider engaging in activities that bring you joy and tranquility, whether it’s meditation, art, or spending time in nature.

Create New Traditions While Honoring Your Loved One’s

Sometimes, the traditions and routines associated with the holidays can intensify feelings of loss. Creating new traditions can be a special way to honor your loved one’s memory. Here are several ways to create remembrance during these times.

  • Create and light a candle
  • Share stories about them
  • Make their favorite recipes
  • Set up a memory jar
  • Buy or make a memorial ornament
  • Dedicate a moment of silence or prayer
  • Volunteer or donate to a cause they would have supported

These gestures can help you feel connected to their spirit, find a sense of purpose, and bring a sense of comfort.

Seek Connection from Support Networks

During these difficult times, we may find ourselves withdrawing, being less social, and reaching out less to the people in our lives. Isolation is a common and normal defense mechanism to experiencing grief. Connection is, however, a powerful tool for healing. 

Turn to those in your life who are willing to provide support. Finding those who appreciate the significance of your relationship with your loved one can create space to be compassionate towards yourself. Shared memories and storytelling can also help process your feelings, validate your experience, and honor the relationship you had with this loved one.

Additionally, consider joining a support group or seeking out online communities of people who have experienced similar losses. UC Health offers a list of grief & bereavement support groups in the Denver Metro area.

https://www.uchealth.org/services/palliative-care/denver-area-grief-and-bereavement-facilities-and-groups

Seek Professional Help

Grief can be overwhelming and difficult to cope with. Know that seeking professional help for this is a courageous act. A therapist can support your journey through providing a safe space to process your feelings and experiences, and find ways to heal these painful wounds.

Other Resources

SAMHSA National Helpline: 1 (800)-662-HELP (4357); open 24/7, 365 days a year

Colorado Crisis Line: 1 (844)-493-8255, text “Talk” to 38255

Find a Crisis Center in Colorado: https://coloradocrisisservices.org/

National Hotline: Text ‘988’ or call 1 (888)-628-9454; website: https://988lifeline.org/

It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to navigate the holiday season when coping with grief and loss. It is an immensely challenging journey, but it’s essential to understand that you are not alone in this experience. By seeking support, practicing self-compassion, and allowing yourself to grieve in your own way, it is possible to find moments of hope and healing.

References

A look at grief 2021: Survey results from experience camps and the harris poll. Experience Camps. (2021, November 2). https://experiencecamps.org/blog/survey-results-from-experience-camps-and-the-harris-poll

Pitman, A. L., Stevenson, F., Osborn, D. P. J., & King, M. B. (2018, February). The stigma associated with bereavement by suicide and other sudden deaths: A qualitative interview study. Social science & medicine (1982). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5884304/

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