What To Do With Grief During the Holidays

The holidays can be one of the most difficult times of the year when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s typically a time to celebrate and spend with family. However, when one of your loved ones is no longer here to join the celebration, it can become very difficult or even leave you feeling guilty.

Yet, there are some ways you can still¬†handle the holidays and enjoy them in a different way as Debbie Rambis (Tony’s Mom), Executive Director of Compassionate Friends and Dr. Gloria Horsley (Scott’s Mom) and Dr. Heidi Horsley (Scott’s sister) shared in a recent webinar.

Here are some tips to help you work through grief while with family and friends:

Lower Your Expectations

The holidays are already a pressure point for people who are expected to host family members, decorate, shop for presents, or entertain with a large meal. When you are grieving, none of that work sounds like anything you want to do. Yet, you feel like you must keep up appearances by still doing it all.

In reality, this is the time to speak up and communicate with your family and friends on how you may not feel like creating such a big production. This is where communicating helps get rid of some of the pressure and find ways to survive the holidays. It might mean buying the holiday dinner instead of cooking it all or sharing the workload. Make sure it’s something you feel comfortable doing and that all family members are included.

Start a New Holiday Tradition

It might be that the holiday traditions you had are too closely tied to the person you lost. For example, siblings may find it painful even years later to hang their brother or sister’s ornaments on the tree. You may find taking a trip instead of the usual traditions may relieve some of the stress. It can also be something as simple as making a toast to you child, grandchild, or siblings.

Find something similar that is meaningful to others, in honor of your loved one. It might be helping to feed the homeless or gathering toys to give to a shelter or toy drive. It can also be lighting a candle. Again, talk to the family to see what could be something special that everyone feels a part of.

Breathe Deeply

Stress and grief lead us to breathe shallowly, which does not help us relieve any of the tension we feel. Instead, it’s good to slow down and take seven or eight really deep breathes each day. It helps our body and mind relax in a way that can change our thinking and brain chemistry.

Show Gratitude

Although it may feel impossible to find anything to be thankful for, especially when early in your grief journey, it’s important to focus on even the smallest things that we can appreciate. We can be thankful for those who are still here, for our health, and our friends. Over time, gratitude will grow as you discover new ways of getting support and reflect on how far you have come.

Make Social Connections

It is important to allow yourself some downtime to recover from the physical and emotional grief. However, do not become a recluse. The holidays are a good time to be social for short periods of time and gain strength from the support of having other people around you. Whether it is playing a board game with family or seeing friends over a meal, pushing yourself to socialize may help you temporarily focus on things other than your loss.


Don’t feel guilty about laughing because you are still deeply sad. Those laughs are the best medicine available. It helps release the grief trapped in your body and turn it into something good as you let it go. Don’t worry about what others think if they see you laughing. Those close to you know why and can share moments to help you move through your grief.

Focus on the Positive

Like gratitude, it may be challenging to focus on the positive. If you observe, you will see that positive things still happen despite your loss. There are new moments and memories made. You also will always still have the memories of joy shared with your loved one. Help each other with grief, such as other family members who feel a sense of loss you as well as friends or members of the support groups you attend.

Get and Give Hugs

Hugs are best because they send an instant feeling of goodness to your heart, mind, and soul. You can experience this both in the act of giving and receiving hugs, which makes it even better. When there are no words for what you are feeling, a hug sends the right message and offers a great gift for you and others during the holidays.

A Healing Holiday

From all of us at The Compassionate Friends and the Open to Hope Foundation, may you have a healing holiday season. We will never forget our loved ones as they will always be in our hearts. The holidays are a time that our memories will continue to connect us with those who have made us who we are today.

Gloria Horsley

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