Managing Grief During the Holidays

Family gathered in the living room by a decorated Christmas tree, celebrating the New Year.


As reliably as the turn of the seasons, the holidays come every year. Sometimes they are a welcome distraction, a time of family togetherness and joy. But when you've suffered the loss of a loved one, the holiday season can feel like an agonizing reminder of your grief. And when the death is recent, that pain is even more keenly felt.


Traditions and get-togethers will always feel different without your loved one there to enjoy them by your side. But the flood of grief will not be overwhelming forever, and there are some things you can do to help ease its intensity now.


1 - Stay Connected to Your Support Network

It can be tempting to "cancel" the holidays entirely or avoid participating in your normal rituals and celebrations, but that kind of self-isolation is a mistake. Grief is a burden that's made lighter when shared.


There is no pressure to be good company or force yourself to be happy and outgoing. But even if you have to cut the visit short or just sit quietly while the action happens around you, being surrounded by friends and family in a normal setting can help prevent the sense of loneliness and isolation that often accompanies grief.


2 - Be Flexible with Tradition

Although it's important not to self-isolate, it's equally important to be gentle with yourself about your expectations. If you're normally the person who hosts the big family meal, it's okay to delegate that responsibility to family members if you're not feeling up to doing everything.


Sometimes it can be helpful to make new traditions or try something new for the holiday so that you're not always comparing things to years when your loved one was there to participate. Things will never be the same without them present. But you can find new sources of joy and celebration. If your home feels too strange and lonely without your loved one, maybe this is the year you travel to visit distant relatives or take a holiday vacation instead.


3 - Honor Your Loved One's Memory

Grief and loss can feel like an elephant in the room that no one knows quite how to acknowledge. It's often helpful to create space for grief in your holiday traditions.


Share stories about your loved one and reminisce about the good times you shared. Make a point of cooking their favorite dish. Display their favorite ornament, or turn something they loved into a decoration you can hold close, like a pillow made from an old shirt. Instead of trying to push your emotions aside, embrace them.


It's okay to cry during the holidays. It's okay to laugh during grief. Grief is complex and can be confusing and tumultuous, and there's nothing wrong with you feeling a whole range of emotions during this time.


4 - Keep Your Connection Alive

Your loved one is gone, but they are still a part of your life. If your loved one has a grave or other final resting place you can visit, bring some flowers and spend some time decorating the grave and talking to your loved one. If you feel self-conscious, you could write a letter instead and leave it at the grave site, tuck it away in the urn, or keep it in a box with other keepsakes.


This could be a good time to create a new tradition as well. Invite family to visit the grave with you or plan a winter picnic at the site where your loved one's ashes are scattered. Light a candle in your loved one's memory. Make a donation to a cause in their name. Volunteer for an organization they cared about. These intentional rituals provide an outlet and expression of your care for your loved one, transforming the pain of grief into something more positive.


5 - Get Help When You Need It

Chapman Funerals & Cremations has spent more than a century helping families lay their loved ones to rest. We also know that the funeral is only the beginning of a journey through loss.


Though the grief may ebb and flow in the months after their death, it should never consume your life. If you feel like you're drowning in sorrow or need help navigating your new circumstances, there are grief resources available to help.

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