Holidays and Grief: Remembering Loved Ones

You’re making your Christmas list this year and suddenly your heart sinks as there’s a name that’s no longer on it. You shop for presents and stumble upon gifts your loved one would love. You look through your calendar and notice a special date when they were still here. Entering a new year without your loved one feels bizarre and simply not as you would have it. 

Grief is hard. 

During the holidays, when merriment and festivities seem to be in an endless supply, there’s a unique sadness for those who are grieving. Holidays can serve as timestamps, recalling the year prior, centering around loved ones, and anticipating the year ahead. This process is bound to include strong memories of the people in our lives who have died and it can be difficult to hold it all. 

This is love and this is the sad beauty of relationships. There’s a connection that can be felt regardless of time and circumstances. So what do we do with all these feelings? How do we continue on with the holiday plans while also making room in our heart for all the changes and feelings? 

Here are 4 tips for tending to your grief during the holidays: 

  1. Build in Extra Time for Yourself: Take a moment to look at your plans and to-do list for the week: Is there time for yourself? This may be a solo coffee run in the middle of your holiday party, an early morning stretching session noticing the feelings in your muscles and emotions in your body, or a late night writing a letter to your loved one about your day. Taking a moment to connect with yourself and with your grief can help you be present during the holidays,too. 
  2. Continue the Connection: Jamie Anderson said it best, “grief is love with nowhere to go.” Finding a new holiday tradition that connects you with your loved one is one way to honor them and channel your love. You may decide to make your loved ones favorite meal or drink, find gift wrap in their favorite color, or implement an activity they enjoyed. If you lost your furry friend, you may decide to donate to an animal shelter. Think about your relationship and your loved one and if something comes to mind, see if there’s a way to incorporate it in your holiday plans.
  3. Invite Others into the Feeling: With all the cheer, plans, and traditions, it’s tempting to feel like you need to put on a mask of nonchalance or happiness. If that serves you, that’s okay. If you would like to acknowledge what’s behind it, try saying your loved ones name naturally. “I keep thinking about ____ this week” or “______ loved ____.” You may be surprised at who jumps in to sit in that feeling with you. 
  4. Recalibrate Your Holiday Vision: You may not feel as festive or excited this year – that is okay. All reactions and feelings are fair game when we are grappling with a new experience. How can you match your holiday expectations with your current feelings? Does traveling feel better than being in the same environment this year? Do store-bought cookies feel better than baking this year? Does coming home earlier feel enticing? Adjusting your holiday plans is a tangible way to tend to your pain. 

The holidays and new year are a louder part of the year. If you are grieving the loss of someone you love, it’s okay if you can’t match that volume. 

If you’ve been thinking about working with your grief in therapy, click here.