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How To: Coping with Grief During the Holidays

As much as the holidays are painted like Hallmark movies, the winter months can be tough for those coping with grief. Here are some tips from Evoke Mind + Body.
Close up of a Christmas ornament in a tree, muted colors, coping with grief during the holidays

By Hope Collins

As much as the holidays are often painted in a warm, glittering, Hallmark movie light, these first few winter months can be especially tough for those who are coping with grief. If you’ve lost someone (or multiple someones) over the past year, the holidays can elicit strong emotions in a loved one’s absence. You’re going through a “year of firsts,” experiencing landmark occasions or regular events for the first time without them there. In many cases, these emotions might show up for holidays to come, maybe even decades after the loss. There’s no wrong way to grieve and there’s no timeline on when grieving “should end,” but in the meantime, here are some ways to ease some of the pain of holiday grief.

Tips for Coping with Grief During the Holidays

gold ornament hanging on a christmas tree branch

Find ways to include your lost loved one in the celebrations.

Book an appointment for a tattoo in their memory, visit their resting site, carry a piece of their jewelry, play their favorite song or artist, put their picture at the table, take turns reading from their treasured collection of books, anything you’d like. Their physical person might not be here any longer, but that doesn’t mean they have to disappear from the holidays. Having part of them be included in the celebration, or even in the mundane, could help you feel closer to them, despite their absence.

Give yourself space to feel.

The stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) can operate more like a cycle: once you get to the end, it’s normal for it to start all over again, or for you to feel any number of feelings out of the given order. Grief can appear as a multitude of emotions: sadness, rage, regret, joy, confusion, peace, gratitude, guilt, or even relief. None of these feelings are “bad,” and all are completely valid.

Part of the healing process is allowing yourself to feel these feelings. The first step in doing so is naming them, either to yourself or others: “I’m confused about why they died.” “I’m sad that they can’t be here to light the menorah.” “This memory of them makes me happy.” Acknowledging these feelings and allowing them to pass through takes work, but can be an essential tool in getting through holiday grief.

Young woman holding her head in her hands, and appearing to be sad. Coping with grief during the holidays

Ask for help.

There’s something profound and transformative about standing vigil with someone, witnessing their pain, connecting with others, and sharing your grief with those around you. Be with those that can hold space for your grief, who uplift you and can normalize your situation. You may feel especially alone during this season of togetherness and gratitude, but there are those who can support you during this time if you’re willing to reach out and ask for help. Even if it’s just asking a trusted friend to sit with you in silence and play video games, or to go see a movie, anything that can be done together can be healing.

Talk about it.

It’s typical to keep talking about your lost loved one in the present tense instead of in the past, and that’s because they’re still a part of your life. Tell their stories, share memories, and try not to shy away from bringing them up. This is especially true if there are children asking about the person at family or friendly gatherings. Talking through some of the pain to someone who can hold your story can be incredibly moving, and can help alleviate some of the daily burdens of grief. If others are willing to listen, give them a chance to hear your story, even if it’s a sad chapter this year.

If your family, friends, or support group is small or unavailable, other options include support groups as well as grief counseling.

Take a step back if you need to.

It’s okay if this season is too much. It’s okay to back out of plans, or not even agree to them if you find it too difficult. Don’t force yourself into activities that might cause further distress or put unnecessary strain on your mental and emotional load. Grief looks different for everyone; even if one person seems fine after a loss, it’s okay if you’re not grieving the same way. Take some time for yourself until you feel ready to see others again.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There’s no getting over the loss of someone important to you. Whatever your circumstances are, you deserve the time and space to process your loss however you need to.

Last year, actor Andrew Garfield lost his mother, and in an interview gave this statement when asked about coping with her death: “I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love I didn’t get to give to her.”

We hope you find a way to hold all of your unexpressed love this holiday season and find some comfort where you can.

Visit our blog to read more tips for bettering your mental health.

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