Grief and Loss During the Holidays

While holidays are traditionally associated with family gatherings and sharing time with loved ones, individuals who have experienced a loss can find the holiday season to be an especially challenging time. This year combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, record unemployment, and staying home for the holidays instead of visiting relatives and friends, an extra layer of stress and even sadness may permeate this holiday season.

“For anyone dealing with an illness, grief, or the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a time of sadness, pain, anger, or dread. It can be difficult to cope, especially when you see the sights and sounds of holiday happiness all around you,” says Angela Morrow, RN.

Grief can also magnify the stress that is often already a part of the holidays. How can you begin to fill the emptiness, when it seems that everyone else is overflowing with joy?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Reflect – Take time to remember.
  2. Be gentle and patient with yourself.
  3. Do what you can to keep some normal routine for health and social contact. It’s particularly important to try to maintain sleep routines, good nutrition, and exercise. You can find stretches here that may help, and recipes from Allina Health.
  4. Connect with others. Grief support may come from a variety of sources, such as family, friends, loss groups or professional counseling.
  5. Take the time you need. Despite what you may hear about “getting over it” or “the first year,” there are no timelines for coping with grief. It takes as long as it takes.
  6. Find rituals and activities that support your journey. Different people and cultures honor loss in different ways. Often that includes coming together to reminisce, celebrate, and support one another. This has become difficult in the time of COVID-19 when gatherings pose significant health risks. Alternatives to group or public memorializing include online gatherings, written remembrances, musical dedications that can be shared, and public markers such as engraved stones or works of art. There are also a number of personal and private rituals that can be done anywhere at any time.

This holiday might prove to be a very difficult experience. You don’t necessarily have to enjoy the holidays or even go through the motions of pretending to enjoy the festivities.  Note, however, it’s also fine to have a good time in spite of your grief. If happiness slips through your window of grief, allow it to happen and enjoy it. Learn more here.