Managing Grief Over The Holidays

The holiday season is a busy time of year for most people, and it may be especially difficult for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one.  The holiday emphasis on family, celebrations, and closeness can serve as a reminder of previous happy memories over past events.

Clients commonly ask about strategies for managing the holidays, and it is common to see a wide variety of what works for people.  Some may prefer to stay away from all things Christmas, others may travel to get away, and some may prefer to stay very busy right up until the holidays end.  It is different for everyone, and most tend to do what works for them and their families.  Although the season can be difficult following loss, the firsts are commonly the biggest struggle.  I recall my first Christmas following the loss of my brother.  I was torn between wanting to create something fantastic for my children and family, and also wanting to honour my late brother.  What it came down to at the end of the day was: I had to manage what I could while also managing my grief.  Grief can be very active work, and it’s a good reminder to simply do what you can and to give yourself permission to say no to the things you are not feeling up to.

Permission to say no

The Christmas season may involve many expectations: work, friends and family functions, buying presents, decorating, etc.  Grief can become exacerbated over the holidays with reminders of past holidays with a loved one, and the emotions can be exhausting.  Remind yourself that it is okay to pass on a function, to bail when you’ve had enough, and to say no to something you are not feeling up to.  Large gatherings may feel too overwhelming, so consider a smaller gathering instead with a few close family and friends.  Setting healthy boundaries around what you can realistically managed will help navigate the holiday season.

Making a plan

Consider making a plan leading up to the holidays.  The Alberta Health Services Grief Support Program suggests making note of events leading up to the holidays that may be difficult, and creating a plan around significant dates to provide you with a greater sense of control.  If this is a first Christmas without a loved one, consider planning ahead to manage any anxiety you may be experiencing.  I typically advise clients to create a routine for a day that may be difficult, and foster a plan to be around people who they are comfortable knowing will offer support.  Free yourself from past expectations, and do something that promotes to your self-care, such as reading a book, watching a favourite movie, or going outside to enjoy the winter beauty.

Finding healing through tradition

Traditions are an important part of the Christmas season.  It helps to create a balance between the old and new, and finding ways to honour loved ones who have passed.  Consider making a donation, creating a special ornament, making a toast, lighting a candle, or sharing stories with friends and family of a loved one.  Whatever you decide to do, remind yourself that honouring loved ones past is a tried and true method for honouring yourselves over the holiday season.  If you require more information on managing grief, consider getting in touch with the Grief Support Program.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a safe holiday season.

About the author

Baljinder Sull

Baljinder Sull

For more information please contact:
Baljinder Sull, M.C.,
Registered Psychologist at Sull Psychology Services

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