FI - 64 holidaystips

64 Tips for Coping with Grief at the Holidays

Back in the beginning of October I made this random list of 64 things I wish someone had told me about grief.  We got approximately a zillion amazing comments with the things you wish someone had told you about grief to add to the list. With December upon us, your amazing comments have inspired me to make another list. This time about holiday grief, in hopes that we may get a zillion more comments with your thoughts and suggestions for dealing with grief at the holidays.

So here it is – 64 pro-tips for coping with grief at the holidays.  Why 64 things?  Eh, why not 64 things?  Take some. Leave some. Love some. Hate Some.  Then tell us what has worked for you in holidays past, or how you plan to cope with the holidays this year.  Because the holidays are tough for all of us, the least we can do are share our tips and tricks with one another to make the season just a smidge more tolerable.

  1. Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and they will be tough.
  2. Decide which traditions you want to keep.
  3. Decide which traditions you want to change.
  4.  Create a new tradition in memory of your loved one.
  5. Decide where you want to spend the holidays – you may want to switch up the location, or it may be of comfort to keep it the same.  Either way, make a conscious decision about location.
  6. Plan ahead and communicate with the people you will spend the holiday with in advance, to make sure everyone is in agreement about traditions and plans.
  7. Remember that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are grieving.
  8. Remember that the way others will want to spend the holiday may not match how you want to spend the holiday.
  9. Put out a ‘memory stocking’, ‘memory box’, or other special place where you and others can write down memories you treasure.  Pick a time to read them together.
  10. Light a candle in your home in memory of the person you’ve lost.
  11. Include one of your loved one’s favorite dishes in your holiday meal.
  12. Be honest. Tell people what you DO want to do for the holidays and what you DON’T want to do.
  13. Make a donation to a charity that was important to your loved one in their name.
  14. Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one and donate it to a local charity.
  15. If you are feeling really ambitious, adopt a family in memory of your loved one.  This can often be done through a church, salvation army, or good will.
  16. See a counselor.  Maybe you’ve been putting it off.  The holidays are especially tough, so this may be the time to talk to someone.
  17. Pick a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.
  18. Make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honor of your loved one.
  19. If you have been having a hard time parting with your loved one’s clothing, use the holidays as an opportunity to donate some items to a homeless shelter or other charity.
  20. Send a holiday card to friends of your loved one who you may regret having lost touch with.
  21. Visit your loved one’s gravesite and leave a grave blanket, wreath, poinsettia, or other meaningful holiday item.
  22. Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.
  23. If your loved one hated holiday music, that’s okay! Play whatever music they loved.
  24. Journal when you are having an especially bad day.
  25. Skip holiday events if you are in holiday overload.
  26. Don’t feel guilty about skipping events if you are in holiday overload!
  27. Don’t get trapped.  When you go to holiday events, drive yourself so you can leave if it gets to be too much.
  28. Pull out old photo albums and spend some time on the holiday looking at photos.
  29. Talk to kids about the holidays – it can be confusing for kids that the holidays can be both happy and sad after a death.  Let them know it is okay to enjoy the holiday, and it is okay to be sad.
  30. Make a dish that your loved one used to make. Don’t get discouraged if you try to make their dish and you fail.  We’ve all been there (or, at least I’ve been there!).
  31. Leave an empty seat at the holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  32. If leaving an empty seat is too depressing, invite someone who doesn’t have family to spend the holiday with.
  33. Don’t send holiday cards this year if it is too sad or overwhelming.
  34. Don’t feel guilty about not sending holiday cards!
  35. Create a ‘dear photograph’, with a photo of a holiday past.
  36. Skip or minimize gifts.  After a death, material things can seem less meaningful and the mall can seem especially stressful.  Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.
  37. Put out a photo table with photos of your loved one at holiday celebrations in the past.
  38. Go to a grief group.  When everyone looks so gosh-darn filled with holiday cheer, sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who are struggling.
  39. Skip (or minimize) the decorations if they are too much this year.  Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of decorations outside your house.
  40. Don’t feel guilty if you skip or minimize the decorations!
  41. Remember that crying is okay.  The holidays are everywhere and who knows what may trigger a cry-fest.  We’ve all been there and it is okay to cry (even if you are in the sock aisle at Target).
  42. Volunteer in your loved one’s memory.
  43.  Let your perfectionism go.  If you always have the perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and perfect table, accept that this year may not be perfect and that is a-okay.  I know this is easier said than done for you type-As, but give it a try.
  44. Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday.  Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works for you.
  45. Seek gratitude.  I am the queen of holiday funks, so I know this is tough.  But try to find one daily gratitude throughout the holiday season.  Write it down, photograph it, share it on facebook.  Whatever.  Just look for the little things.  Here are some tips if you’re struggling with it.
  46. Watch the food.  Food can make us feel better in the short term (damn you, dopamine!) until we feel like crap later that we ate that whole tin of holiday cookies.  Don’t deprive yourself, but be careful that you don’t let food become your holiday comfort.
  47. Watch the booze.  Alcohol can become a fast friend when we are grieving. If that holiday party is getting to be too much, head home instead of to the open bar.
  48.  If you are stressed about making the holiday dinner, ask someone else to cook or buy dinner this year.
  49. If you are stressed about the crowds at the mall, cut back on gifts or do your shopping online.
  50. Splurge on a gift for you. Grief can make us feel a little entitled and self-involved, and that is okay sometimes (within reason, of course).  Splurge on a holiday gift for yourself this year, And make it a good one!
  51. Say yes to help.  There will be people who want to help and may offer their support.  Take them up on their offers.
  52. Ask for help.  If people aren’t offering, ask.  This can be super-hard if it isn’t your style, but it is important.  Asking others to help with cooking, shopping, or decorating can be a big relief.
  53. Have a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or toast in memory of your loved one.
  54. Donate a holiday meal to a family in need through a local church, salvation army, or department of social services.
  55. Identify the people who will be able to help and support you during the holidays and identify who may cause you more stress.  Try to spend more time with the former group and less with the latter.
  56. Make some quiet time for yourself.  The holidays can be hectic, make quiet time for yourself to journal, meditate, listen to music, etc.
  57. Practice self-care.  I know, how cliché.  But it is true – whatever it is that helps you recharge, do it.  You can find some self-care tips here.
  58. Support kids by doing a memorial grief activity together.
  59. Donate altar flowers or other holiday decorations at your place of worship in memory of your loved one.
  60. Prioritize and don’t overcommit.  When the holidays are filled with so many parties, dinners, and events, save your energy for those that are most important. Look at everything you have to do and rank them in order of importance.  Plan for the most important and skip the rest.
  61. Make a list and check it twice.  Grief makes it harder for us to concentrate and remember things.  When you have a lot going on at the holidays, make a list even if you aren’t usually a list-maker, and write things on the calendar.
  62. Skip it.  Really.  If you just can’t face the holiday it is okay to take a break this year.  Before you get to this extreme, consider if you could just simplify your holiday.  If you do skip, still make a plan.  Decide if you will still see friends or family, go see a new movie, or make another plan.
  63. Enjoy yourself! The holidays will be tough, but there will also be love and joy.
  64. Remember, it is okay to be happy – this doesn’t diminish how much you love and miss the person who isn’t there this holiday.  Don’t feel guilty for the joy you do find this holiday season.

Bonus Tip: Check out our print resource A Practical Guide for Grieving During the Holidays

A practical guide for grieving during the holidays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment with your holiday suggestions.  Subscribe and we’ll send more great grief stuff right to your inbox.  


COMMENTS

Coleen Murphy

Posted on December 2, 2013 at 11:48 am

My brother was killed in an auto accident that left our family reeling for a very long time. As we have moved through our grief one thing stands out to me: We have not taken a family picture since his death. It has been 9 years since his passing and I think it is time we have that done.

Another thing, as I type this, is that I don’t think I have watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” in its entirety in those 9 years. It was just about a year before his death that my four siblings all admitted to owning that video and watching every Christmas season, without each other knowing about it. The last years of my brother’s life were full of love and he was happiest in that life than I had ever known him to be before. He touched many people and life would not be what it is today if he were not to have been a part of mine and I miss him.

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Alison

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

Thanks for this! As we did with the “Back to School” post, we thank you for giving us permission to share with our families who are coping with loss. Your posts are always so helpful. Thank you for what you do.

V/r,
Alison Sayers
Hospice of St. Mary’s Bereavement Volunteer

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Litsa

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 9:43 am

Thanks Alison! We are so glad that you find the content helpful and worth sharing with your families.

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Kathy

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm

These are very helpful suggestions. Just reading them got me crying and laughing to think of all the things I should/could share with loved ones. I lost my youngest son and his girlfriend to vehicular homicide on 11/13/11. It’s only been two years and we all still miss them terribly. I will be using many of these points of advice to help myself and the rest of the family to make this a happy holiday indeed.

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Katherine

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Maybe you can all watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” together and take note as a group of parts that remind you of your brother. Even if everyone is in tears.

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Becky Christensen

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 6:48 am

I stumbled across your website from a friend who posted the original “64 Things I wish someone would have told me about grief” on FB. Thank you so much for your insights on that list as well as this one about the Holidays. My husband of 27 years, passed away on Dec. 19th, 2006. Needless to say, the Holidays can be treacherous waters to wade through. His funeral was 2 days before Christmas, so we kind of wrote that one off. The next year I took my three kids to Disneyland. We had a wonderful time having fun. He would have liked that very much. This year marks year 7 and I will take 2 of my grown kids, who will be visiting me, to the Hard Rock Cafe. He was a lover of Rock and Roll, so it seems fitting. I’ve learned to do unconventional things, if that’s what I feel like doing. That sometimes gets a rise from the other family members, but I’ve learned it’s not about them. The years come and go, we laugh, we cry, we love, we fight, and in the end, we are still his family. Although the pain seems to sit inside my pocket everywhere I go, I sometimes embrace it, sometimes let it sit for awhile and sometimes just smile and remember the good times we shared.

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Diana

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I lost two sons in 2006 … One was 32 the other was 28 … They died 4 months apart … I still grieve … I think a part of me always will … But we still do holiday’s … We do them differently … These are excellent suggestions …

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Kathy Rez

Posted on December 8, 2013 at 12:13 am

My husband died suddenly near the end of September last year. With two kids and two family’s traditions to deal with during the holidays which seemed to arrive in rapid succession, I’m finding this year’s holidays harder to deal with than last year. Maybe I was still in shock. Maybe not knowing how I was going to feel made it easier. All I know for sure is that I’m praying that everyone will still be understanding even though “The First Year” is over. “The Second Year” stinks, too!

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Litsa

Posted on December 8, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Absolutely. In December of last year things were probably still surreal for you and your kids. Hopefully others will be understanding that the holidays will still be difficult, not just this year, but probably over the next few years. The pain of the holidays never fully goes away for many grievers. I hope you guys are able to find some ways to make the holiday just a little bit easier this year and for the years to come.

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Nicola

Posted on December 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

My husband of 19 1/2 years was murdered on 4/12/2012 and the trial of his murderer begins in 75 days. I still struggle through the day to day stuff. Our three daughters (21,21, & 18) were all scattered last Christmas, me in England, girls in three different states and I ignored it. My husband loved Christmas, he was a big kid at heart and we established many, many traditions. I can’t do any of them. This year, our youngest and I are going to visit friends in Hawaii (we live in Alaska) for three weeks. Christmas on the beach will be as far away from our family traditions as we can possibly get. I gave my self permission to stop participating back in April of last year.

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Claudia

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Second Christmas without Bob for me – first Christmas and all holidays I think I was just numb – went thru the motions – some things I don’t even remember – this year it is all so real – a year of reflecting and remembering and learning to do – but he does still live in my heart and thru the memories we shared and that helps bring a warmth into my heart – stories we tell and smiles we share of him. I smile because he was a part of my life and it was a good life….

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Kathy Rez

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Claudia – I feel the same way. The stories are so important. I keep reminding people that they don’t have to be afraid to share since many think they will upset me. I love hearing the stories, and so do the kids.

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Pam

Posted on December 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I lost my husband of 28 years on July 10th 2013, he got cancer and was gone in 3 weeks…I had no idea people could die that fast. I have 3 children 28,22,19 still at home and I am so happy about that. We haven’t lived near family since 1988 so being alone for Christmas is something we have done several times, we all agree we still want to have our Happy hour Christmas eve and Movie day on Christmas, I think my husband would be proud of us.

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Eleanor

Posted on December 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Pam, I’m sorry your family is facing your first holiday season without your husband. I’m sure he will be missed greatly is so many ways. How wonderful it is that your children will all be home with you, I know it won’t be easy for anyone but at least having each other helps a bit. I am sure your husband would have been proud of you all and BTW that Happy hour Christmas Eve sounds fabulous!!

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John Whitley

Posted on December 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Death is a life event and to that purpose I am encouraged and strengthened by the thoughts of Maya Angelou:
“Courage is the most important of all virtues. Because if you haven’t courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others.” Maya Angelou

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Carolyn

Posted on December 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm

This will be the first Christmas since our youngest son was killed in an auto accident that the whole family will be together. He died in March of 2002. We have the added blessing of 2 grandchildren added to the mix and we are flying across the country to make this happen. There will be some sadness but the overall feeling will be one of joy and gratitude. God bless all the grieving souls this Christmas! <3

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WANDA MIDDLETON

Posted on December 24, 2013 at 12:25 am

THIS TIME OF YEAR IS MY FAVORITE AND ALSO VERY DEPRESSING THE REASON BEING THAT ME AND MY MOM DID THE COOKING AND BAKING SO THIS WAS OUR TIME OF YEAR I MISS HER REALLY BAD, THIS IS THE 2ND YEAR WITH OUT HER AND IT SEEMS THAT I CANT GET INTO THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON, SO TODAY I MADE ONE OF HER FAVOTIE CAKES

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Litsa

Posted on December 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Oh, I am so sorry about the loss of your mom and that they holidays have been so tough. I love that you made a cake. I have always found baking to be really comforting. I actually wrote a post earlier this year about making my dad’s favorite cake to make myself feel better around the anniversary of when my dad died: http://whatsyourgrief.com/grief-and-baking-a-cake/. Last year I planned to make my grandmother’s holiday cookies, but I failed! I did end up doing something cool with her old recipes, which actually ended up being really comforting. http://whatsyourgrief.com/recreating-and-remembering-family-recipes-and-epic-fail/

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susan gray

Posted on January 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

My world came crashing down all around me on March 7, 2004. When I lost my ONLY two children and (my best friend) my ex- husband and his new wife of only two years. When they were ALL killed in a horrific car accident involving a tractor trailer that actually ran over top of them. My daughter was 10 and my son was 6 at the time of there passing. Even though it has been 10 years and we had to deal with court also, he was convinced and spent 4 years in prison. That is alot more to this case then I’m letting you know at least at this time. It would take me a long time to explain and not sure that I have enough space to tell you all of it any way. I have a hard time with all of the holidays because of their age, I guess. But their favorites where from Halloween through new years… So there for those are the toughest for me, I have tried alot if your suggestions, but for the most part you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling’s so you just put that mask on that I’m sure that everyone is familiar with… I have worn this mask just about everyday for 10 years just wondering if anyone can help me take it off and keep it off and hopefully throw it away… Thank you for listening to my story…

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Stevens mom

Posted on July 27, 2014 at 2:19 am

Help? Lost my 2nd son on Jan. 2nd of this year. Youngest son will be stationed overseas by thanksgiving. Do not want to spend Christmas at home with missing two family members. husband and young daughter are open to being away but what if I have to have a plan b due to finances??? And what do I do on the anniversary of my son’s death?? Please advise?

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