10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays After the Death of a Loved One

October 28th, 2010 11:20 PM | 3 Comments

The Holidays are stressful:

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There are presents to be purchased, crowded stores, extra traffic, financial burdens and social obligations.  If a person has experienced the death of a loved one this seasonal stress is greatly magnified.

Death brings about many changes that will affect the holidays.  Perhaps your loved one always carved the turkey or prepared a traditional dish from an old family recipe.   Patterns and rituals will be different this holiday season.  There will be an empty chair at the table, the house may not look the same in the way it is or is not decorated.  Holiday cards may not have their usual cheery message, and how do you sign them.  Even if a person thinks they have been “doing well”  with the death the holidays can reactivate their grief as they are forced to acknowledge the extent of their loss.

The emotions that the holidays stir in a person who has experienced a loss are overwhelming.   Here are 10 ideas that can help reduce the stress and  ease some of the emotional pain this season may bring.

1.  Don’t plan to skip the holidays:  It’s impossible to simply bypass the holidays.  Even if you hide your head under the covers until the sun sets, you cannot wish the day away.  It will come.  Instead, accept the fact that it’s normal to feel sad and down at this time.  Face your feelings and learn how to prepare as best you can for the day.

2.  Plan Ahead:  Grieving people do not like surprises because their emotions are already like a roller coaster, up and down, and unpredictable.  Therefore, plan ahead so that the events of the special day are well known to you, your family members and friends.  Predictability reduces the element of surprise and increases coping skills.

3.  Make tentative plans:  Because the emotions of grief are so unpredictable, it is hard to know in advance if you will be having a good day tomorrow, or next Thursday.  Therefore, if you are invited to a party or holiday meal, your response can be, “I would like to go, let me give you a tentative ‘yes’”.  This gives you the space and opportunity to change your mind if necessary.

4.  Do only what is special and meaningful to you:  Stop and take a look at what supports you and makes you feel most comfortable and do only those things.   Remember this is your grieving process, you deserve to put yourself first and monitor your comfort level.

5.  Shop early or by catalog or online:  Grieving people often see reality through distorted lenses.  If you have lost a spouse, it may appear that all the world is “coupled”  with happy , healthy, married people and of course they are all madly in love.  If you have lost a child, everywhere you gaze you will see only energetic, rosy-cheeked children with smiling parents.   During the holidays these perceptions can be accentuated:  the malls are filled with joyful shoppers, Holiday music, colorful decorations, and an exciting hustle and bustle in the air.   A grieving person may feel alone and depressed in this environment.

6.  Tell the truth about your feelings:  If you are asked, “How are you?’, be truthful.  The way through grief is by grieving.  In addition, most people don’t know how to support someone who is grieving.  They need you to tell them how you actually feel:  “Today is hard day for me”;  “I’m feeling tender”;  ”I’d like to be quiet”;  “I’d appreciate some company”.

7.  Choose supportive people to be around:  Be with those people you feel comfortable with, those who are okay with tears, those who can sit and chat with you about the person who has died.  It is important that you do not feel a need to entertain them but rather a freedom to just be relaxed and say and do the things you are comfortable with.

8.  Take Care of Yourself Physically:  Grieving people can have a tendency to under eat or over eat.  They can also drink alcoholic beverages in excess, particularly during the holidays.  There are many ways to distract ourselves from painful feelings.  Make healthy choices, watch what you eat and drink, get plenty of rest and exercise.

9.  Remember to Remember:  “Relationships don’t end, they only change form.”  You are still impacted by your loved ones love, guided by their words, touched by their sense of humor.  Acknowledge the person who died, write them a card, get them a gift.  Honor this relationship in whatever manner you find helpful.  This relationship will never cease to be important to you.

10.  Most important remember that we are here for you, your loss and your healing matter to us:  Please feel invited to visit our web site,  we have more articles for you and a grief blog for your thoughts.  www.journeythroughloss.com

Remember there is healing in the telling.

Julie Siri, LCSW


  • Anonymous

    This is a great article to pass on to a friend. Often we do not know how to support someone who is grieving. These are concrete ideas to help others during this emotion laden time of year.

  • kevin

    I thought I would be doing fine this year since it has been 3 years since my father died but I keep remembering our family dinners and how we would all go to a movie after our meal. There were so many of us we would “vote” on what to see and eventually we would g oion 2 groups to make everyone happy. My dad was always he diplomat finding solutions that kept everyone happy.

    • Fujiiaki

      Like you I have many memories from the holiday season. This time of year is bittersweet. What I have been doing is just allow myself to get lost in the memory or daydream and enjoy it. If the memory is sad I distract myself but if it is pleasant for me I just let it unfold and enjoy it as much as possible. That helps me feel as though I am including my loved ones in the day with me. It does get better.

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