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  • Jill Jacobs, LPC

Grieving During the Holidays

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

The holiday season can be a joyful, stressful, frustrating, exciting time for people. For those who are grieving loved ones or changes that were out of their control, the holidays can be an especially challenging time. Here are five reminders and tips for navigating difficult times during grief:

1. Be gentle with yourself.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you may feel without judging yourself.

Remove “shoulds” from your vocabulary. Accept your feelings and experience as they are, rather than what others consider the “right” or “best” way to grieve.

Know that grief can change rapidly. It is normal to cycle through different emotions and feel several things at once. Grief contains both pain and joy. We can feel the pain of the loss and feel the bitter-sweet joy of fond memories of our loved ones. All emotions are acceptable, and we can choose which emotions to fuel and act on.

2. Consider your possible grief responses and needs on that holiday or difficult day.

How do you expect to feel? Do you expect to feel sad, overwhelmed, confused, numb? That’s ok. You can prepare for different possible scenarios.

Communicate possible needs and boundaries with others. Let people know that you may need space to decompress or that you may need a hand to hold when feelings become overwhelming. It is ok to let people know that this is a hard time and that you may need specific supports.

3. Make plans for what to do on a particularly difficult day.

One plan may focus on spending time with others and an alternative plan may focus on spending some time to yourself. Both are helpful options, and it is ok to communicate with others what you might need without guilt. The more we communicate our needs, the easier it is for others to meet those needs.

4. Consider creating physical spaces or tangible representations of your loved ones that have died.

Some ideas include: a place set at the table, a picture with a votive candle to light, a slideshow of pictures to watch, or a photo album placed in a designated area.

You can co-create this space with other loved ones if it feels helpful to do so.

5. Allow yourself verbal and non-verbal outlets to express your grief.

Does it feel helpful to talk through your emotions and memories? Ask someone close to you if you can take time to share that space and remember together.

Does it feel more helpful to write a letter to your loved one? Consider writing about the things you would tell or ask them if they were physically present.

You can also use art to express yourself. Sing, dance, draw, knit, paint, color, or use another medium to represent your experience. Just make sure you have those materials easily accessible as part of your grief planning.

Finally, know that there is no rule book for how to get through the holidays or other difficult days when grieving. We can only do our best and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve. Again, be gentle with yourself and know that it does get easier.

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