Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

The loss of a loved one is painful anytime of the year, but it is especially poignant during the holidays–a time when family and friends gather to spend time with one another and reflect on the year gone by. So how do we deal with grief during what is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”?
“Holidays have a lot of stress to begin with, the stress from society and the stress we put on ourselves. That stress is tripled with grief,” says Doreen Horan, LCPC, manager of the counseling center at Stella Maris in Timonium, Maryland.
When dealing with grief, it’s important to be compassionate to yourself, according to Horan. “Allow yourself to be tolerant with your feelings,” she says, “and accept the likelihood of your pain. Accepting things are going to be different makes it a little easier. Don’t wish the pain away, but accept it.”
It’s also important to feel whatever you need to feel, whether that is sadness, anxiety, fear or despair. And it’s okay to feel differently at different times. “The only thing that’s constant is change,” says Horan. “Emotion can consume us for a day, but it can’t consume us forever.”
Finding positive, even creative ways to express your emotions is a healthy part of the healing process. Horan encourages people to find a confidante they can talk to freely, someone who will really listen. Other ways to express emotion include crying, journaling, writing a letter to your loved one, playing music or singing.
Horan also suggests taking a brisk walk, doing yoga, praying, meditating and exercising. “Whatever you choose to do, allow your feelings to move within you,” she says. “You will feel better, learn more about yourself and continue to heal.”
Support is also crucial when experiencing grief. In addition to leaning on trusted friends and other family members, feel free to contact a bereavement support group or a grief counselor. Attending religious services could also prove helpful. Volunteering is a great way to do something for others and feel good on the inside, too.
Planning ahead for the holidays also helps. Determine how you’re going to handle roles and tasks previously performed by your loved one ahead of time. “Decide if you want to continue the traditions or give it a break,” says Horan. “When planning, it’s important to plan for the holiday only. Take it one day at a time, one week at a time. Plan tentatively and remember it’s okay to change your mind.”
You can honor the memory of a loved one with a candle at their usual spot at the dinner table and sharing memories and funny stories about that person. “It’s a way to turn the negative into a positive,” says Horan.
In the midst of grieving and holiday planning, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat healthy and balanced meals. Sleep frequently. Drink wisely. Maintain an exercise routine. If you don’t have one, now is the perfect time to start one. “Anytime you’re stressed, it’s important to exercise,” says Horan. “Exercising releases endorphins. When your body feels better, you feel better.”
Even though times are tough, be sure to count your blessings and know that you’re never alone. “If you find the future looks bleak, reach out and ask someone to hold you and your hope and believe in you when you have difficulty believing in yourself,” Horan says. “People die, but the love you have for them never dies.”
For more information on the Grief Center at Stella Maris and its services, please visit