Man in grief

Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holiday Season – The Death of a Loved One

The holiday season can be a time of joy, laughter, and celebration for many people — but for those who have experienced loss, the holiday season can be a time of sadness and pain. If you are coping with grief this holiday season, know you are not alone. In this article, you will read about some ways to cope with grief during this particular time of year.


Grief during the holidays

The holidays can be difficult for people who are grieving the death of a loved one. That’s because, while they may not be able to celebrate currently with their loved one, they might have done so at other points throughout the year. The first holiday after a loved one has died will likely feel different from all previous ones—and that can be hard to adjust to.


The holidays are also a time for reflection, which means thinking about how much things have changed since last year and how you want them to change in future years. Thinking about the past and future can be especially painful when you feel raw and emotional about losing your loved one.


Even if it’s hard for grieving individuals like yourself to feel festive during December celebrations, there may be ways that you can still participate with friends and family members who want nothing more than your company on this special occasion.


Grief is not a linear process.

Grief is a rollercoaster. You may feel happy and joyous one moment and then deeply sad the next. These waves of emotion are normal, but they can be challenging to manage at celebratory events. While at celebratory events, some friends or family members may not understand your loss – It’s essential to keep in mind that they’re not trying to hurt you; they may just not know how complicated the grief process is. If you’re feeling sad and someone brings up an event from last year when everyone was happy together, try something like: “I’m glad we had fun then—but right now, I’m having a difficult time.”


You may feel happy and then sad.

The holidays can be a time of great joy and happiness, but it’s also a time of sadness when you are coping with grief after the death of a loved one. It is normal to feel happy, then sad. It’s also normal to feel both emotions at the same time and even for them to change back and forth. You may start out feeling happy and then suddenly get very sad, or vice versa. This fluctuation can seem confusing, but an individual grieving experiences different phases, such as sadness and anger, which, at times, can switch quite quickly. It may take some time for grief to settle and reach a long-lasting acceptance phase.


It’s OK to feel happy or joyous during the holiday season when you are grieving.

It is common to experience feelings of guilt during the holiday season if you recently lost someone. Grief is a process, and there will be ups and downs. Remember, it’s OK to feel happy or joyful during the holiday season – feeling happy or joyful at any time does not mean you are betraying your loved one or disrespecting their memory. Sometimes, we are also honoring their memory through the feeling of joy.


Everyone grieves differently, and there is no right way to grieve.

There is no right way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently.

Some people feel grief and sadness, but other emotions may also be present, such as anger, guilt, or even relief during your grieving process.

Don’t compare your grieving process to others – or how you think others are coping with the loss of their loved ones. Also, avoid comparing yourself with how others think a person in your situation should be grieving.


You can take a break from grief, even if just for a moment.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, making grieving all the more difficult. Remember that when you’re ready, you can and should take a break from grief. You can permit yourself to step away from the pain of grief. Eventually, grief will evolve, and you will be able to do that – taking a break from grief does not mean you forget your loved one, and it doesn’t mean you’re disloyal. It signifies you’ve healed enough to start taking good care of yourself again.


Honor your loved one’s memory

Incorporating a time of remembrance into your holiday season is a way to honor your loved one’s memory and may help you cope with grief. Here are a few ways we can incorporate remembrance:

  • Make a toast in their name
  • Take some time with those who have gathered, where you all can share your favorite memories of the person
  • Plant a tree in their memory
  • Visit their grave
  • Keep their picture close during a special event you wish the person could have attended, such as wearing a locket.
  • Light a candle in their memory or say special prayers


You may also honor their memory by creating new traditions or rituals — it may help make you feel connected to your loved one even though you are physically apart. Some new traditions/rituals may include:

  • Creating an annual event in their memory each year on their birthday or their death anniversary
  • Having a special meal made from their favorite foods
  • Planting flowers at a spot where they liked to spend time outdoors
  • Volunteering at an organization that helps others
  • Writing down memories about them so they are never forgotten, or make a scrapbook


If you need to talk about grief, reach out to others who have experienced loss.

When you’re coping with grief, it can be helpful to talk about your feelings. If you need to talk about your grief, you can reach out to others who have experienced loss. Here are some ways of connecting:

  • Reaching out to family and friends who have gone through a similar loss. If your loved one was sick for a long time before their death, it might be easier for you to approach other members of your family or close friends who have recently lost someone they were close to.
  • If your friends or family do not know what to say or how much of your pain they should share in conversation with you – you can let them know how they can help support you through this difficult time. 
  • Joining a bereavement support group in your area. These groups give people an opportunity to share their experiences and learn from each other about how best to cope with grief during the holidays after losing someone special. 
  • Reach out to a licensed professional such as a psychologist or therapist


You are not alone if you are experiencing grief or loss this holiday season.

Grief is a journey that can be made easier if you reach out to a licensed psychologist who can offer guidance on coping with your loss during this emotionally demanding holiday season. 


Dr. Carolina Raeburn is a Florida Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a subspecialty in neuropsychology. If you’re struggling with grief, loss, or caregiver stress, please schedule a telehealth appointment by clicking here. Or if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out through our contact page.


*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.

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