Coping with Holiday Grief

Coping with Grief: Holidays and Special Days are Challenging

The following information was taken from Chapter 13, “Special Days“, in GriefWork: Healing from Loss by Fran Zamore, LISW, IMFT & Ester Leutenberg.

Special days, like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, Sundays and many, many others, offer challenges to anyone who has suffered a loss. These days are glaring reminders (as if they were needed) of the absence of a loved one. We may find that our emotionality is heightened just prior, during and just after any special day. Many people who are grieving are surprised at this phenomenon and truly feel blindsided.Grieving woman

Another surprise that often catches people unaware is the emotional difficulty they experience during the second year. This is often true because people think that they have managed this particular event without the loved one, so it will be easier the second time. They do not prepare for the emotional impact and are shocked. Or, they realize, with hindsight, that during the particular event in the first year they were still quite numb, and in the second year they are fully feeling their feelings.

Here Are Some Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Any special day can be difficult.
  • Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Don’t try to do everything and see everyone.
  • Be realistic about what can and cannot be done.
  • Schedule brief breaks to be alone.
  • Try to tell those around you what you really need, since they may not know how to help you. Ask for their understanding if you withdraw from an activity that doesn’t feel like a good idea to you.
  • Acknowledge to yourself that the occasion may be painful at times.
  • Let yourself feel whatever you feel.
  • Express feelings in a way that is not hurtful.
  • Don’t be afraid to rethink traditions. Keep in mind that traditions, even long-standing ones,
    Beautiful Easter Eggs

    Make Beautiful Christmas Eggs instead of a Gingerbread House

    can be changed and can be resumed next year, or not.

  • Limit your time – grief is emotionally and physically exhausting.
  • Take time for yourself for relaxation and remembrance.
  • Honor the memory of a loved one – give a gift or donation in his or her name, light a candle, display pictures and/or share favorite stories with supportive people.
  • Discuss, ahead of time with family and/or friends, what each person can do to make this time special. Share in the responsibility, and see what can be eliminated or included to keep it less stressful.
  • If celebrating does not feel right, try volunteering this year.

    Christmas volunteers

    Volunteers Serving Holiday Dinners

  • Think about what part of this event you are not looking forward to, and discuss with other participants ahead of time, what can be done to change it.
  • Remember, it is okay to laugh and enjoy yourself.
  • Leave an event early if you want or need to.
  • Make a shopping list ahead of time and shop on a good day.
  • Propose a toast to your loved one and invite people to share memories.
  • Give yourself permission to cut back on holiday decorations, preparations and gift-giving.

Coping with Grief: Holidays and Special Events Worksheet

Choose five of the sentence-starters below and write in the first thoughts that come to your mind.


  • My birthday is no long as joyful since my loved one died.
  • My birthday reminds me of all the previous birthdays we spent together.
  • My birthday gives me an aging and vulnerable feeling.

My birthday ____________________________________________________________________________________ .

_________________________________________________________________________________________________ .

On ______________________, my concern is _______________________________________________________ .

_________________________________________________________________________________________________ .

Buying gifts is __________________________________________________________________________________ .

_________________________________________________________________________________________________ .

Special family events (graduations, weddings, births, etc.) are _________________________________ .

________________________________________________________________________________________________ .

___________________’s birthday is coming up soon and __________________________________________ .

________________________________________________________________________________________________ .

On holidays I am still expected to _____________________________________________________________ .

________________________________________________________________________________________________ .

Special events feel ____________________________________________________________________________ .

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ .

The anniversary will be coming soon and ____________________________________________________ .

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ .

On holidays I feel obligated to _______________________________________________________________ .

______________________________________________________________________________________________ .

The weekends _______________________________________________________________________________ .

______________________________________________________________________________________________ .

Go back to the list of coping skills at the top of the blog. See if any of those skills will help. Jot them down next to what you have already written. 

For a printable version click here: Coping with Holiday Grief

© Whole Person Associates, 101 W 1st St, Ste 203, Duluth, MN 55802, 800-247-6789.

1 thought on “Coping with Holiday Grief

  1. Gerald James Avila

    Grief is such a painful process. Sometimes, your feelings and pain can become overwhelming enough to affect you and your life. When this occurs, it is important that you seek the help of other people. You do not have to be alone with your feelings and pain.


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