Handling Grief Around the Holidays

By Shaudi Adel, LMSW 

As the old Christmas carol goes, the holidays are often considered “the most wonderful time of the year,” and are typically associated with positive feelings and “Christmas cheer.” For many people, however, the holidays are a reminder of what has been lost, whether it be the passing of a loved one, someone currently in critical condition medically, or experiencing stressors that have ruined old, nostalgic traditions that we have looked forward to in the past. I know from my own experience that the holidays lose their sparkle a bit once a major loss is experienced. Here are some ideas for how to cope with grief around the holidays by being true to your emotional experience and bringing in self-care. 

1. Accept your own feelings as they arise and oscillate. As you may already know, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with the 5 stages of grief as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage has its own emotional process, and there is no “right or wrong” way to move through the stages since they are not linear. It’s important to validate yourself for whatever feeling you are experiencing and release any judgments or self-criticism for the emotional experience. I know I’ve heard some clients say, “I should be past this” or having harsh expectations to be in a different emotional space, but these self-judgments only make it more difficult to move through the emotions effectively.

2. Talk about it. Experiencing grief can feel like an isolating process – although many do reach out with words of comfort, you may feel like you have to “just deal with it” all on your own. Not true! Reach out to those who feel safe to you or those who knew the loved one who has passed away. Share old memories and stories, and find a way to keep the positive memories in the present. For our family around the holidays, I like to flip through old photo albums and reminisce on old memories of our family before we lost my brother. It is a comforting way of remembering him and cherishing the memories I am grateful we made together through the years.

3. Find a way to honor your loved one during the holiday season. What did your loved one enjoy around the holidays? Was it an activity? How about making a favorite dish of his or hers to enjoy together in his or her honor? This can be a healing experience in merging acceptance of the present situation with creating new traditions to continue to bring the individual into the holidays. 

If you are struggling with grief, there are many resources and support groups out there to help you through this process. Check out https://grief.com/grief-support-group-directory/ to begin a search in your local area. Also, if you are not plugged in already with a therapist, starting therapy or grief counseling can be helpful for the healing process. 

Shaudi Adel is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.