Thanksgiving and Christmas don’t stop just because we miss someone at the holidays or the marriage has imploded or the diagnosis has come. But what can help us navigate grief during the holidays?
While the holiday season often magnifies the pain of loss, these 25 ways to help manage grief in holidays offer practical and meaningful ways to find comfort.
Remember, we all deal with deep disappointment and loss differently. Manage your grief by doing what brings you comfort.
In fresh grief, you may need to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas much differently. Our first Christmas after Dan’s death looked a lot different, and yet by God’s mercy, I remember it as one of our sweetest Christmases. As grief softens, many find they can go back to old traditions while also keeping new ones that honor their loved one.
25 Ways to Help Manage Grief in Holidays
1.Mix it up. When everything familiar is hard, it’s incredibly freeing to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving in a new place. I’m forever grateful for family who lent us their cabin decorated like something from a Hallmark Christmas set that first Christmas after Dan’s death.
2. Keep traditions that help. Some traditions will bring a flood of warm memories, are too special to let go or bring out the fun. Keep the traditions that bring comfort and joy.
3. Let go of traditions that don’t help. Some traditions may be too painful to keep this year. If you dread unraveling strings of lights and putting them up, here’s permission to let it go. Remember that skipping a tradition this year doesn’t mean you have to stop every year.
4. Create space for grief. The emotions of loss are hard – sadness, disappointment, despair and more. Giving yourself space to feel these emotions and helps you process loss to move forward.
5. Go to the party guilt-free. It’s okay to enjoy a gathering or to laugh with friends. And it’s okay to tear up when someone asks how you’re doing. You don’t to attend every event, but in a season of grief, it’s refreshing to dress up, do your hair and enjoy some lighter moments.
6. Stay home guilt-free. It’s also okay to skip the party. When you’re exhausted or overwhelmed, had a particularly hard day or you know the event will be filled with too many triggers.
7. Keep it easy. Use paper plates for meals, make a simple holiday dinner, frost refrigerated cookies. This is the year to keep things simple so you can focus on things that matter – your family, your memories, your healing.
8. Be prepared for awkward. The holidays will feel different. You will see the gap your loved one has left in your life and you may have awkward lulls in conversation. You may burst into tears at an unexpected trigger. Things will be awkward as you find a new routine.
9. Know when to say no. Grief takes enormous mental, emotional, physical and spiritual space. Give yourself the gift of margin this season and know the best thing may be saying no to extra responsibilities right now.
10. Don’t compare. Don’t hold yourself to recreating the holidays as they’ve always been. Take it from someone who’s tried, you’ll end up feeling exhausted and underappreciated. Instead, do what’s most nurturing for you and your family.
11. Make their favorite food. One way to include your loved one is to make her favorite food. The dish, the smells, the way they tweaked it are all special memories to hold.
12. Buy a special ornament. Or make one with your children. It’s not only an intentional way to remember your loved one that first Christmas but bringing it out year after year will create a beloved, new tradition.
13. Say their name. People unfamiliar with grief don’t use the name because they think it will “remind” you of your loss. As if. You know grief means learning to live with the love and without the loved one. Break the ice and say their name.
14. Look for ways to bless someone else. God has created us so that lifting someone else’s spirits lifts our own. Looking for simple ways to extend kindness to others will help you find your smile.
15. Set an extra place at the table. This would have been too hard for me, but I’ve seen what comfort it provides others. Setting an extra place may allow you to feel the comfort of how it’s always been.
16. Crank the praise music. Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays meant as reminders and celebrations of what God has done and Who He is. Make a holiday playlist and let it lift your eyes from your circumstances to the Lord.
17. Remember and tell stories. This is a favorite. I want my children to know their dad – who he was growing up, in college, as a husband, dad, Sunday school teacher, avid outdoorsman. Some memories are poignant; some make us belly laugh. But stories that bring warm memories are great comfort.
18. Keep a candle burning. One of my favorite new traditions is to keep a candle burning in memory of your loved one. It’s a quiet and intentional way to honor your love and to note how deeply they are missed.
19. Rest. Grief stresses us physically, emotionally and mentally. Getting enough sleep and rest (they’re not the same) helps our mind and bodies deal with the demands of grief.
20. Exercise. And better yet, exercising outdoors. Exercise and getting outdoors help us release stress while flooding us with endorphins and hormones that help us feel good.
21. Get a puppy. Or a kitten. Or go visit some puppies or kittens. Confession: I resisted this for the longest time because as a single mom of seven, the last thing I needed was something else to take care of. But pets are great therapy for the sadness and loneliness of loss.
22. Count your blessings. God calls us to give thanks in every situation. Thanking God for his goodness in the midst of the hard, helps us see the hard differently. Gratitude opens our eyes to God’s love, comfort, provision and kindness and helps us find joy right in the midst of the hard.
23. Extend grace to others. Don’t expect others to know what you need in grief. People won’t know what to say or will say the wrong thing. They may shy away from helping. Truth is, only God can fix your pain. Let others off the hook of expectations with grace.
24. Create necessary boundaries. Extend grace but also set boundaries when anyone consistently pulls you down with comments or is overly needy. When you’re fighting through deep loss with everything you have, it’s okay to guard your thoughts and emotions with healthy boundaries.
25. Know that the day after is sometimes harder than the day of. The day after Christmas or Thanksgiving often pulled me into a deep grief wave more than the holiday itself. It could be because I was mentally and emotionally prepared for the holiday, but when the festivities were over and family went home, the reality of my unexpected life hit hard.
26. Remind yourself: it won’t always feel like this. Yes, you will always miss your person, That missing may be more acute during Christmas and Thanksgiving. But if you do the hard work of grief, the pain will ease and slowly, slowly be replaced with warm memories that fill your whole insides like warm tea.
This Christmas or Thanksgiving may look different, but as you find ways to help manage grief in holidays, you are taking steps to move forward. Those steps are often imperceptible at the time, but keep giving space to your emotions, keep taking them to God and keep trusting God to restore your joy. Many, many blessings to you and yours this season.