Holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas (not to mention birthdays and anniversaries) can be very tough for those who have experienced loss. For people in grief, family gatherings and celebrations can highlight the absence of a special person.

With some thought and planning, it is possible to get through the holidays with health and integrity.

Acknowledge that It’s Tough

Getting through this time will be difficult, but you will survive it. Often the anticipation of the day is much worse than the actual day itself. Heads up: while the first holiday without a loved one is difficult, there will likely still be challenges at the second holiday too.

Create a Ritual

Plan a simple, symbolic act to acknowledge your loved one. Make it meaningful to you. Some ideas:

  • Leave an empty chair at the table during a special meal
  • Light a candle of remembrance during a special time
  • Cook a dish that brings up warm memories
  • Do a family activity that your person enjoyed (skating? baking?)
  • Raise a toast to your loved one at a gathering

Do Something New

Consider a change of scenery

Create new traditions that may ease the obvious absence of your loved one. Think about changing the venue of your celebration; consider a restaurant instead of a meal at home. Maybe take a trip instead of staying home for the holidays like you always did before.

Create several different plans and then give yourself permission to switch plans depending on how you feel.

  • Plan A – Dinner at Mom’s
  • Plan B – Go to a movie and then have dessert at Mom’s
  • Plan C – Drop by Mom’s for appetizers and then take yourself for a walk
  • Plan D – Have a Netflix binge, order takeout, and phone in to Mom’s party
  • Plan E – Volunteer at an event and drop by Mom’s to help with clean-up

Help Others

Want to boost your immune system and get a blast of feel-good endorphins? Volunteer to help someone.

  • Volunteer to serve a meal at a facility to help the less-privileged. Walk dogs at an animal shelter. Help your elderly neighbours with their shopping. Distribute toques and mittens to the homeless.
  • Volunteer for a cause that was important to your loved one. Maybe you can create a new ritual!

Make a Donation

Making a donation in your loved one’s name can help you feel connected to them. Giving to help others who are also grieving or giving to a cause that was close to your person’s heart may be particularly meaningful.

Be Very Kind to Yourself

Take a cat nap (or a dog nap?)
  • It is perfectly OK to say, “No, thank you – perhaps next year” when you are invited to gatherings you would rather avoid
  • Rest as much as possible. Naps are for adults too!
  • Drink water. It helps your brain cope with the challenging physical effects of grieving.
  • Incorporate movement into your day. Do an online yoga video. Go for a walk. Swim laps and enjoy the hot tub or sauna after.

Adopt a Mantra

These are short, easy statements you can say to yourself when things get overwhelming. Write your chosen mantra on a few post-it notes and put them around the house as a reminder. Some ideas:

  • Be sad. It’s allowed – grief doesn’t take holidays.
  • Laugh. It’s allowed – life goes on.
  • All good things come to an end. All bad things come to an end.

Spend Time with Supportive People

It is OK to just say no to gatherings you find uncomfortable. Instead, spend time with people you find supportive and comforting. This might include friends on social media. Phone support can be helpful when you are just too overwhelmed to to go out or have company; ask your friends to phone you!

Embrace Your Memories

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved.  And holidays always make you think about times past.  Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends.  Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness.  If your memories bring laughter, smile.  If your memories bring sadness, then it’s alright to cry….”

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Center for Loss and Life Transition

Bring out your box of mementos
  • Talk about your loved one over the holidays
  • Share stories about your loved one
  • Photo albums encourage conversation about your loved one – put a few out where family and friends will look through them


Think of those songs that make you sigh and feel as if the world is a great place to be. That’s the music for your ears every day – it will change your brain, your hormones, and your state of well-being. It’s easy, inexpensive and one the most effective de-stressors you’ll do this season. Ask a friend to help you put together a feel-good Spotify playlist.

For an extra dose of feel-good hormones, sing along!

Accept Help

Let others assist with the decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, cleaning, greeting cards, cooking, and so on. In fact, which of these tasks do NOT need to be done this year at all?

People want to help you; give them the opportunity to reap the benefits of helping others, as well. You don’t need to face the holidays alone.


Do What You Need to Do to Get Through the Holidays

Grief may not take a break, but hopefully you’ll not only cope, but even find some peace and joy during your holiday season.


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