Holidays, anniversaries and other milestone events are often a time when we connect with our friends and family. For many, the holiday season is bittersweet. On one hand we have an opportunity to spend time with people we love, but for some of us we are acutely aware of our losses and find ourselves overwhelmed with grief.

For those of us who are grieving, the holiday season can be especially difficult to navigate. Whether we’re grieving physical losses (death, loss of limb, etc) or symbolic losses (divorce/separation, friendships, job loss, loss of income, loss of safety, etc), the holiday season can amplify the gaps in our life and can trigger or re-trigger a grief response. Despite what you may think, it is possible to look forward to the holiday season while also struggling with the reality of a loved ones absence. The pain of their absence can be intensified when the person has died and no words can express the pain of the loss of a loved one

Coping with grief during the holiday season can be an unwelcome intrusion. At one moment you’re excited about the holidays, then the next you’re shedding tears. This swing in emotions can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that experiencing grief or re-grieving during the holiday season (and other milestone time periods) are normal responses to loss. While grief is a universal process each person has a unique grief expression and journey. It is so important to remember to give yourself permission to do grieve your way and to allow others to do the same.

Here are some practical things to keep in mind on your grief journey:

Be honest that you’re grieving.

While we may cope differently with grief in a family, it’s good to be honest with yourself. Don’t struggle to wear a brave face when you’re hurting. Express your feelings. Talk to your family and friends. Tell them how you feel. It can help reduce the pain and the feeling of being alone in your grief.

If you are navigating a loss that just occurred, we often struggle with the reality and finality of the loss. This part of the process is a necessary part of the grief journey. Give yourself permission to feel the range of emotions that accompany grief.

Do something in memory of the departed loved one.

Happy memories can bring a smile to your face.  To honor those memories, create something in remembrance of that person or the relationship.

I once knew a young woman who lost her six-year-old son. Her son loved chocolates. She remembered how they used to fight when she refused to buy him the chocolates. When she bought them, he would tell her how he loved her to the moon and back. This memory made her smile. She would buy chocolates and give them to children during Christmas holidays. It made her feel better and connected to her son.

Find strength from support groups.

It can be comforting to be around people who wear the same shoes as you. They know where it pinches most. They understand when you say your heart is broken. During the holidays, find a support group (in person or online)  and  fill your cup.

Share your grief.

Do you use any social media platform? You can share photos you took with your loved ones during the previous holiday season. Feel free to express how it hurts that they are away. Join closed Facebook groups meant for grieving people.

Use an exit strategy.

If you are planning to attend a function, be prepared for unexpected emotional feelings that may show up on the grief journey. You may want to think about what you might need or want in that moment. It is ok to decline events that may be especially triggering for you.

Do what you think is right.

You don’t have to participate in events that others recommend. You know what you can handle comfortably, don’t avoid but also don’t overwhelm yourself. Choose activities that you align with your well-being. Grieving is a lifelong journey and the holidays are especially triggering.  Inform your support system about how you’re feeling and what you need from them.

As much as grieving might be a difficult challenge in life, it can feel heavier during the holiday season. Meeting up with family members during the holiday can trigger pain and comfort at the same time.Give yourself permission to seek and receive support on your grief journey.We have a free grief workbook available HERE.

If you would like additional support on your grief journey our therapists are available.