Managing Grief At The Holidays

The loss of a loved one can seem overwhelming during the holidays. Read expert advice on some ways families can channel their grief and honor the memory of those who have passed.

They say dying is part of the life cycle, but by nature, the holidays are a time for family and traditions. The memories of a loved one who contributed so much to the celebration and who has passed away may seem overwhelming, with the loss felt all over again at this time. Watching others embrace the excitement of the holidays may leave us feeling lower than ever; we may have feelings of guilt about decorating the house, putting up the tree, baking cookies, the giving and receiving of gifts – anything that brings us joy. Grief counselors and other experts say there is much we can do to get through the holidays, however, honoring the memory of our loved one and even learning new ways to channel our grief and memories into new family traditions.

Experts Weigh In
First, contrary to what we may think, mental health experts concur the holidays are not the time to hide feelings of loss and pain. Reaching out to family and friends who may be experiencing the same feelings – and the same reluctance to share it for fear of casting a shadow over the festivities – may be the best idea. In fact those closest to us may welcome the opportunity to comfort and be comforted themselves, and at the very least, to know that you think enough of them to enlist their support.

Next, don’t make the mistake of burying yourself in a whirlwind of holiday preparations, assuming this will distract you from your grief and take the place of expressing what you feel. Just as people may try to bury themselves in their work at times of sorrow, using the holiday as a substitute isn’t much better. One analogy compares this approach to a beach ball in a swimming pool. One can only sit on it for so long before it bursts up and out through the surface.

Loss is fatiguing and if you feel tired or low, moderation is the key to managing the festivities. While you don’t want to isolate yourself for days on end, try and strike a balance between participating in the holidays and getting the rest and quiet time you may need. If others offer to help shop, decorate, cook, etc., this is the time to take them up on it.

Listen To Yourself
Also, while friends and family may mean well and sometimes during times of sorrow we need an extra push, be sure to listen to yourself by determining your priorities and following through. Not everyone has the same ideas about managing grief, and deciding what’s right for you (no matter how great or small these activities) and seeing them through will give you a sense of control and accomplishment – a welcome boost. Structure is also a great tool during the holidays, so plan ahead as much as possible, knowing where you need to be and when you need to be there. It can give you something to look forward to.

Experts also remind us the holidays are often the time we think about what means the most to us – our life’s purpose. The loss of someone we loved can be a catalyst in a deeper assessment of what we have and what we still need to achieve. A passing reminds us our time on Earth is relatively brief, so making the most of every moment, day, month, and year, though sometimes a challenge, should be first and foremost in our minds. For some, this may mean renewing a faith or reevaluating a relationship or career. For others, what means the most may result in the start of a tradition, foundation or something else that honors the memory of our loved one.

The Gift of Giving
Finally, many concur that a tried and true method for handling grief, at holiday time or any time, is to do for others. When we reach out to help someone in similar circumstances, or experiencing hardship in any form, some say miracles occur in our outlook. Are there children, animals or other members of your community who are in need? Depending on the nature of your loss, is there an organization like the local chapter of the American Cancer Society that would welcome your help?  Can your house of worship use your services at this time? Helping others can remind us that there is much to be done in the world, and our contribution is always important.

Overall, there is no right or wrong way to manage grief during the holidays, and chances are among family and friends, total agreement of such just won’t happen. The best rule of thumb is to be good to yourself, trust your instincts, seek support from others as you express your feelings, and if possible find a way to channel your loss into something that will benefit others.

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Beth Herman

Beth Herman is a freelance writer with interests in healthy living and food, family, animal welfare, architecture and design, religion, and yoga. She writes for a variety of national and regional publications, institutions, and websites.

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Christy D

I lost my grandfather Dec 30 2017 and my gma Jan 9 2018 yes 9 days apart. They raised me because my mother or father didnt want me or just didn’t have time for me. I know I’m 43 and this probably sounds childish but I feel like I lost my parents and my grandparents. This is the first time in 43 years I wont be going home for Christmas. I’m really having a hard time trying to get thru Christmas. I will be alone Christmas my husband is working and I have told my 2 grown children to go see there other grandparents because you never know. I try and be the strong one for them but honestly I feel like I’m drowning in life right now.

Roland Welsch

My son committed suicide on his birthday this year. I have to focus on the good memories and block out what he did that night. I’ve been spoon feeding holiday spirit out as to not become overwhelmed.

May god bless and keep you and yours safe from harm.

Susan Higgins

We’ll keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers, Roland Welsch.

Kathy S.

December 22, 2012 (on my birthday) my dear father passed away suddenly. What a shock it was for all of us.
Less than 6 months later I lost my only brother (14 months younger than me) from complications of health issueas after successful radiation treatments for throat cancer.
Then 11 months later we lost my dear Mom. This is my first birthday/Christmas coming up without my Mom here.

My daughter and I often talk about all of them and are forever grateful that we had my folks (her grandparents) around for as long as we did. They were both in their 80’s and lived good full lives. My brother was short changed and passed away at 56yrs.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think of them. Somedays I’ll laugh thinking about past times and good memories. Other days (like right now) I can’t hold back the tears.

Mom used to always say “Nobody lives forever”.

I’m truly blessed to have wonderful memories of all of them. Miss them dearly. Love them dearly.

Wishing all of you who have lost loved ones that you find comfort remembering them.

It’s not easy moving forward all the time. But I persevere. Life is different now without them.
Find that I keep more in touch with my Aunts and Uncles now…they’re the thread a step away from my parents.

Take care everyone who mourns. Will keep you all in my thoughts and prayers.

Marilyn Griffin

The biggest lesson I ever learned about how to deal with grief was from brother in 1970. Our grandfather had passed away the week after Easter and our favorite aunt passed away suddenly in her sleep at Thanksgiving. In 1970, people didn’t go to a therapist or support group. I was heartbroken and expecting the worst Christmas of my life. My brother had a different idea in mind. He decorated my grandmother’s home and came up with games and activities. We celebrated the lives of the ones we had lost. It was one of the best Christmases I ever had. I didn’t know at the time that my brother, who was 22 years old, was celebrating his last Christmas. He was killed in a car accident on December 29, 1970. He was coming back from the barber shop in the late afternoon. He was my only sibling. The world forever changed for me that year but I learned a valuable lesson. My brother wanted to make Christmas special for his family not knowing it would be his last Christmas. I learned to value the people who are in our lives because each day is a gift. If we focus on the ones we have lost, we miss the ones who are still living. I have lost many people in my life since that year. I became a therapist and have worked with people who have lost. This was a very good article. Take time to celebrate the people in your life this holiday. Both the ones you have lost and the ones you have today. I think your lost loved ones would want you to celebrate with joy.

Vikki W

I lost my brother…my best friend…my Irish twin two years ago in November. He was unconscious in the hospital for two days and I was home with pneumonia. They took him off of life support and put him in hospice and at nine o’clock on a Sunday night I asked my other brother to take me to the hospital to say goodbye. No one else was around..they had all left exhausted…and I began to talk to him and tell him to let himself go..that do not stay for us..that we will take care of his precious wife and daughter and he opened his eyes and looked right into mine. The nurse was startled and went running out of the room for the supervising nurse and physicians and meanwhile I kept talking to him…moving my head slightly to see if his eyes were tracking make sure he was truly listening and looking at me…and he was. I told him to go…that he was in such pain and he had a better place to be where he would finally find some peace in his life. He took one more deep look into my eyes…closed his and he was gone. I remember leaving the hospital and looking at people coming in…laughing…talking…Christmas lights up…and I just wanted to scream…DO YOU PEOPLE NOT KNOW WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE!! I felt like I was in an alternate dimension because how in the world could the earth still be turning and people carrying on as if nothing at all had happened. That one of the best kind hearted people in the world just left us and there is a hole in the universe. How could no one else feel the shift? Exactly one year later my mother passed and ten days later my mother-in-law passed and it was on Thanksgiving at the dinner table. Then this past October my sister-in-law passed. I have had to be strong for my dad…for my children…for my nieces and nephews..and help them along..but as we all know we are not strong. We are the best actors and actresses in the world because once the lights go down…once we are alone in our cars…we are taking a shower or watching a late night movie…or those damn Hallmark commercials…we are done for. God bless you all…It is always astonishing to me that we are all walking around..because how is it possible when are hearts are torn to shreds and I don’t care what anyone says…there is no coming back from it…there just isn’t.

Lisa J

I lost my 21 yr old daughter almost 3 yrs ago, on St Patrick’s Day…just a month shy of her college graduation and 2 months shy of her birthday…and she left behind a 13 month old daughter. My husband and I are now raising her as our own…and she makes life worth living. We both had children from other relationships, and they are all grown. My daughter was born on Mother’s Day weekend so those days are especially hard, just as the Christmas holidays. I cry myself to sleep many a night, but put on a brave front most of the time…mostly for the sake of the little one, but also for everyone around me. Like Carolyn G said many people say they don’t know how I do it, but what choice do I have? I will never stop missing my daughter and get so very sad when I am doing something with the little one that she should be here doing. I also wonder how the baby will ever understand what an awesome person her mother was, and wonder if she will ever have any true memories of her mother since she was so little when she passed away. We have pictures everywhere and she knows I get sad about “mommy Kelsey” but I just hope she doesn’t ever feel abandoned or as sad as I am. But, I will do my best in all aspects to help her and to keep my daughter’s spirit alive.


I lost my Daddy on the 9th of March this year. I and my family have been going our year of firsts together. Christmas Day is what we feel will be the hardest time of all. My Daddy loved Christmas. We all want to just sleep though Christmas, but we know that is not what Daddy would have wanted. I miss him so much. I just don’t know how I’m going to get through it.

Bunny Murray

Thanks for your article…it is very timely. I lost my youngest brother in June after a long battle with drug addiction and alcoholism. It hurts like it was yesterday. It brings up all the other losses I’ve experienced. I find that there is very little understanding or tolerance of grief in my small circle of friends and family, so I end up grieving alone. It took me a long time to get out of the “numb” phase, just as it did after my dad’s death. I know it takes time. In the meantime, I’m just limping through the holidays.

Patricia Topornycky

our Molly dog who we have loved for over 14 years is not doing well lately … A few months ago she had the first seizure , then after that during a 2-3 month period have a few more,,but managed to make a come back pretty much to her normal self , then last week what seemed like a cardiac event occured then another this past sat night…. She is a family member and it’s breaking our hearts….can’t take Molly to vet due to extreme anxiety that has happened over past visits… Pretty certain another visit would trigger either seizure or heart attack…..
It’s never easy to loose someone you love but the holiday time there seems to be joy all around except in your heart ,,, which is breaking. Molly is hanging in there but of course we don’t want her to suffer,,,,
Letting go .. The thought of it ,,,,,, seems like just sorrow loss emptiness

Charlene Klatt

My mom passed away on December 18, 2005. The day before their wedding anniversary. It still is very hard at holiday season. I have no one that I can talk to. I miss her very much.


My husband and I both lost our previous spouses, and I have to say this time of year is sometimes hard. I remember, happily, my past Christmas celebrations but also still grieve the loss. My greatest wish would be that my husband and I had never lost our spouses and life would have gone on happily. But we were widowed and I am happy that we found each other. We make new traditions and try to honor our past. We both know we will never “get over” the past, we try to honor the love we share with them still.

Belinda Sue

I lost my eldest son 11 years ago on December 12th. This has been by far the hardest year yet. Someone actually asked me “are you ever going to get over that?” and it just made me that more determined to push back on the endless holiday happiness and take time for just me and my grief.

Jan Williams

I lost my husband of 46 years, last Christmas day. It is so very hard to keep your head up although I know he would want me to. There are so many good memories and that’s what I plan on doing this Christmas is remembering all of the wonderful times and friends and family that meant so much to him.

Gary P.

I lost my partner of 19 years August 8th, 2009 to complications from acute pancreatitis… It was sudden and he was traveling alone when he fell I’ll.. I take concellation in the fact we hugged, kissed, and said good bye at the aitpprt, but never knew it was for the last time… Xmas was his favorite time of year, the little boy in him always came out, now 5 years later, I gather with family but just feel numb inside celebrating, have no desire to decorate my home, or the merriment of holiday parties…I have found, you never get over losing someone you love, you just find a way to manage the pain… Because we are alive, we must go on…

Shirley B

I lost my Mom Jan. 29, 2011 to Alzheimer’s. My younger sister passed away 3 months to the day my Mom passed away Apr. 29, 2011. Then on Feb. 21, 2012 I lost my younger brother during gall bladder surgery. So 3 close family members passed away within 13 months. I hear people say it will get easier. I am still waiting. It feels like it just happened yesterday.

Penny Tarbert

I lost my dear mother and best friend on Mothers Day this year and just this past Thursday lost my mentally retarded brother who I practically raised. Not sure I can go on just had his service yesterday the pain is just to great.


Last summer I lost my mom.. Then my dad 17 days later and then 17 days later my mother-in-law…. I am still quite sad.. Christmas will never be the same..


This will be my 3rd Christmas without my partner, Audrey. She willed herself to death when she lost her favorite nephew a week before Christmas. I’m still trying to cope with her loss and that of my parents. I can’t bring myself out of my depression this time of year. I do volunteer work at the local theatre. It helps but like all good actors, the show must go on.

Cheryl edwards

Both my husband and I have life threatening illnesses we live 1 day at a time. Our daughter is a drug addict and an alcoholic she has lost it all she now has shut out her entire family completely we wait for that phone call or knock at the door this time of year is very hard.

Shirley Willoughby

Thank you so much for this article I think this is what I’ve been searching for. I lost my Dad 4 yrs ago in Oct Christmas was his favorite and we went on for him. Then this year I lost my Mother on April 1st 2014 I’ve been trying to get into the Christmas Spirit but still finding it hard to do. Spending Christmas with my brother and his family may help both of us as we try to go on without Mom and Dad.

Marcy Jorgensen

I lost my mom on July 27, 2013 just five days before I turned 50. I just lost my dad on November 29, 2014 to lymphoma. I know they are together again and that thought keeps me going,but I am having a very hard time right now. Thanks for the article that hopefully will help some with my grieving process.


July 1,2014 I lost my best friend, soulmate and my husband of only 3 years. We spent 7 years together before we married. Charlie died unexpectedly from a massive stroke while we were on vacation camping with our granddaughters. Grieving is the most diificult challenge in someone’s life since you never know when the tears will flow or when the pain hits your heart. Also making it more difficult I was let go from my job of 21 years because the small business owner I worked for felt I was taking off to often to grieve. He actually told me he felt 4 months was enough of time to grieve that my grieving shouldn’t take any longer. I’m keeping my faith and I know that Charlie is with me in my heart and will be forever.


Reading these reminders. I am in good company with sorrow at this time of year. Thank You, Jnoonan For caring.
It will be 3yrs January 1st. That the Love of my Life. Took his life. He was in physical pain. I wasn’t at home at the time.
Just five years, before that. I lost my Dad. December 12th, 2006. To Prostate cancer. I was able to hold my Dad, resting his head. As he pass away. I felt comfort in holding him so close.
while on the other hand my Husband. Was in pain alone and died by his own hand at 36yrs old.
In disbelief, that he had done this. I was in shock . For days not remembering what was going on around me. With very little in the way of family support. For comfort and reassurance. Making a move 1500 miles away. Wanting to be near to my children. Where I once called home. I broke down diagnosed with severe P.T.S.D.
I found myself. wanting to also end the life, I was dealing with. Confiding what I was feeling. And afraid that I would do. Found myself in unbelievable circumstances. This was the worst thing to have happened. At that time.
What was needed, was to be kept closer in company of being Loved. Rather than being left alone in a tiny apartment. Feeling alone lost and lonely. Recounting the over whelmingness of the 1st up coming holidays filled with loss. Away from everything familiar around me. Not able to find my way around without getting lost in direction.
A Suicide, has terrible reactions and consequences. In so many ways. To the Loved ones dearest Loved to distant friend.
It HURTS, the MOST. The least one you’d, ever want to hurt. They endure hearing the assumptions. Miss guided questions and consequences of more Heartaches.
Never think it’s o.k. to comment a personal opinion of suicide. To someone trying to deal with what’s left over. with the memories of it. Your opinion does not matter. Unless you want to hurt them more.
gossip goes on.. it’s an unspoken ugly thing.
Dear God, please help me make it thru … amen


James, I know how you must feel. I lost my two 15 year old kitties (sisters/littermates) within 2 weeks of each other in March. That sent me reeling. In 2012 both my Dad and brother in law died of prostate cancer. It’s hard to feel joy right now.

Renee Lee Greco

My best friend of 36 years is dying from stage 4 colon cancer.

I went to go see him Friday morning and he was slipping away, so his doctor and fellow police officers who were there with him. However i got him to drink a lot of water and try to act as if things were normal.

His doctor was shocked and said that he improved however his liver is …. done etc. Only his kidneys are still good. So we’re trying to get him to last until Christmas.

The doctor gave me an estimate so …..


I lost my dad to cancer yesterday. This article was helpful, thank you for sharing. We’ve agreed this year will be, “holiday lite” which is fine with me. No pressure, no guilt. My shopping is 50% done and that’s good enough. Again, thank you.


I lost two pets in the last year. Doesn’t seem like the holidays with out them. Still miss all the animals lost

Marcel Pick

I lost the love of my life Christmas morning, 4 am. 2002. We spend a good and happy 13 years together. We separated 2 years earlier before her passing, didn’t make it any easier.
You have to move on.

Carolyn G

May 24, 2014 i lost my mom, i wasn’t even close to 1/2 way grieving my mom when 19 days later i found my darlin who died in his sleep from a massive heart attack. i have a large family with much support. but i must say often times i hear my family say how amazed they are at how well i’d dealing w/this double whammy. i want to know HOW AM I SUPPOSE TO DEAL W/IT? i’ve never deal w/anything like this before. but ladies & gents i can honestly tell you {as i know y’all know now} i know what a “broken heart” feels like. my grandsons told me today {who are 5yrs & 3yrs.} that they miss him alot & wondered if i was missing him too. omgoodness gracious me…it pertineer put me to tears, but i had to buck up & answer them. it’s times like this that i’m grateful that my Lord & my darlin {i know he’s near} keeps me in prospective. don’t get me wrong i cry ALOT. i didn’t think i’d make it a week after he died. then Thanksgiving was a first. especially since we were going to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary 5 DAYS later at the restaurant we had Thanksgiving dinner at, but i survived. as i’ll survive Christmas & New Year’s & his birthday, etc. right now i don’t know HOW but i will survive! i’ll keep y’all in my daily prayers. God Bless

Susan Higgins

Hi Carolyn G. Thank you for sharing your story with us. We are so sorry for your losses. That certainly is a lot to deal with. There are grief counselors out there, or support groups in your area, consider taking advantage of them to talk to others who are going through what you are going through. Enjoy the holidays with your grandsons.

Susan Higgins

Lauren Lohr: Those beautiful memories we have of those who have passed can really help us through the hard times, can’t they.

Lauren Lohr

I lost my Mom 12/19/1992 I loved my Mom more than words can express. The Holidays have always been hard. You remember what a great cook she was and how she made you feel like you were the most special person in the world… She never had the pleasure of meeting my Daughter who was born in 1997 but I know she is looking down on us. She is our Angel and that we are lucky to have a powerful force up in heaven looking down on us because we really needed it this year death struck again this time it was my Husband… He passed away 2/13/2014 at the age of 44. So now we are in another first. But I know now not only is there Mom up watching over us my Husband is also. That helps know that.

Marilyn Aradine

I lost my husband on Christmas day. It will be 15 years this Christmas. Does it get any better? NO. He was the love of my life. Our daughter, granddaughter, and I live together. That is all the family we have, but Jesus sees us through every day.His love has no limit. Knowing my husband is with him gives me peace. God Bless You Always.

donna ingle

i always gave my dad pickled pigs feet for fathers day and chocolate covered cherries for christmas and each year i put them on his gravestone. that was back in june of 2001. my mom passed away january 24, 2014. 2013 we had a christmas party cause we knew she wouldn’t make it to this christmas. i felt her leave on that day and i’m not handling it since i was closer to her, she counted on me for alot. i think if we can share like on here, it will help us all

Sandra Davis

I lost my dad to lung cancer on December 17, 1995 and it is a reminder every year that Christmas is near and memories are still there, but I know that he is in a better place and my mom is with him. I think of them both at Christmas, but I never did dwell on it, as he told me that I was to remember him, but not to mourn him. I shed happy tears, and not sad ones.

Anna Luce

I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer February 24,2014. Christmas was his time of the year. It will be difficult this year but with Gods help I will get thru it. I have my son and his family. We lost my ex-husband in July and his wife the day before my husband. This year has been rough for my son and his family.

Karen Runyan

My 41-year old daughter died in a car accident on October 6, 2014. My son-in-law is taking their daughters on a 6-day cruise and I understand completely. She loved Christmas. It was her favorite time of year and this first year will be difficult for all who loved her. I believe her spirit is around us so I am going to try to enjoy it for her.

Allen Weddell

I know what you are feeling , this is the first thanksgiving and Christmas I and my three children will be having with out my wife she passed July 25 2014 after a 9 & half year fight with cancers . I think of her every day and I know the kids do also . So I think this Christmas will be hard on all but we will get through it hope .

Diane Hinkle

Both my grandparents died during the Christmas holidays but 15 years apart. For years after each death, the Christmas holidays were sad. We overcame and were moving along and then my dear mother died on her birthday. Another day we always looked forward to with gifts and merry making and now it is a sad day for my sisters and me. You just have to do the best you can for a while………….time heals all things I am told.

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