Coping with Grief: 7 Tips for Supporting Yourself During the Holidays

Coping with Grief: 8 Tips for Supporting Yourself During the Holidays

"When our grief stagnates, we become fixed in place, unable to move and dance with the flow of life." Francis Weller

The holidays are in full swing. Christmas music is playing in department stores, markets, and coffee shops. People are out shopping, co-workers are talking about their holiday plans and neighbors are decorating their houses. It’s hard to escape. So how do you move through this time when you are actively grieving the loss of a loved one? You don’t feel cheerful or celebratory at times. What do you do to manage the hubbub of the holidays and the strong emotions you are feeling inside?

Frankly, it’s hard. After all, you have many fond memories of someone who has been so close. And now family is coming back together, but this time without someone you miss dearly. The holidays for many are the hardest part of the grieving process.

So here are eight tips and strategies to help you find some relief and solace through the rest of December.

  1. Find at least one person who can sit with you and bear witness to your grief. Sharing with another is a great way to be with a loss. Ask a friend, neighbor or family member you trust.

  2. Acknowledge your lost sibling, spouse, parent or child during holiday get-togethers. Light a candle and ask friends and family to share a memory or a prayer. These moments can be bonding. The death of a family member does not need to be left unmentioned. The acknowledgement can be brief, and it allows for a time for all those present to feel heard and supported (especially those who have been grieving in silence).

  3. Make an effort to tell family and friends what you need. If you need time alone or if you need support, ask for it. People are not mind readers so try to be as candid as often as possible. This is part of self-care. Asking for what you need is a way of supporting yourself.

  4. Re-evaluate your traditions (if you feel the time is right). Perhaps this season you start new traditions in ways that represent a new beginning and that also honor the deceased. It could be a family hike or planting a tree in honor of your loved one. Something new to usher in a new world without forgetting the old.

  5. Spend time with your grief. Allow yourself 30 to 60 minutes to feel the full breadth of your emotional states. You can make it a daily ritual in the morning before the day begins. Sit and be mindfully aware of any physical sensations or emotions (both enjoyable and painful). This is silent time with yourself. Meditating like this can make you stronger and more resilient to bear the intensity and frequency of painful memories. An on-line guided meditation can be helpful.

  6. Give yourself options if you plan to attend holiday parties or events. Be up front with friends and family that you may not be able to attend or you may need to leave early. Make sure to take care of yourself. Your friends and family should understand.

  7. Self-compassion. Try to be easy on yourself. Grief is a process (a human experience) and not a problem to be solved. It has its ups and downs and sideways. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. Be gentle with yourself if you are not feeling what others are feeling. Know that you are worthy of care and comfort when you are hurting inside.

  8. Give back. Do something positive as a way honoring. Service is a great healer when we are working in concert with others to help those in need. Feeling part of something bigger than yourself can offer a reprieve from depression and loneliness.

Pain is part of life but suffering is optional is an old adage that applies to the grieving process. There is no doubt that this is a painful period. And there are ways of minimizing the suffering. If you can walk through the pain with honesty and gentleness, you may find that life is more bearable during this time of the year. If you find that your grief feels prolonged and acute with few moments of relief, it may be time to reach out to a grief counselor or to join a bereavement group for support.