Holiday Heartache: A Compassionate Guide to Grieving

grief during the holidays, candles, mental health, support, therapy

“I don’t feel like decorating this year, I am too sad and missing my loved one.”

“I don’t know how to cook a Turkey, grandma always did that.”

“I want to go on vacation this holiday, being at home feels so empty without my mom.” 

The holidays are here- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years. The holidays are already stressful for most, with the endless shopping, cooking, and planning, but when grieving, sometimes none of those things feel very important. Maybe grief feels like it has come in and filled all of those spaces, with constant reminders of recent loss. 

As we approach the year’s end, maybe you feel all the emotions at once, or maybe you feel numb. While many anticipate the holidays with cheer, it’s important to acknowledge the less visible struggles—those who grieve or are unable to celebrate with loved ones. Coping with grief amidst a season meant for joy brings a unique and often challenging mix of emotions.

Loss Of A Loved One

Memories serve as a constant reminder of your loss, and watching others celebrate with their families can be painful and overwhelming. From Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, to New Year’s Day can be particularly difficult, especially after the first year of loss. Having to learn new traditions and how to go about your old ones without a very important person in your life is difficult.

Some tips for getting through the holidays with self compassion:

Give yourself Permission: Holidays might not feel “normal” or the “same” right now, give yourself permission to do what feels right. It’s okay to scale back on festivities or change traditions if they feel too painful.

Boundaries and Self Compassion: Are you feeling pressure to attend holiday parties, gatherings or events? Personal boundaries can look different for everyone, maybe it is reminding yourself you do not have to stay for the entire event. Try to avoid situations that feel overwhelming or draining. It’s okay to decline invitations if you’re not up to it. It is about finding balance between being present and spending time with family, and not pushing yourself or your boundaries.

Lets talk plans: It is understandable that you may not want to go to every holiday celebration but don’t isolate yourself. It’s okay to plan alone time to grieve and remember in peace but balance it with social activities that can help you grieve through a difficult season. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself: Grieving is hard itself, it is okay to not continue on traditions such as being the hostess for the Christmas family party. It is okay to say no for the year and leave the planning for others. Allow yourself to grieve, “keeping busy” isn’t helpful but stresses you out even more. 

Consider your Support System: 

Spend time with understanding friends and family who not only acknowledge your grief but also provide the space and empathy you need. These are the people who won’t pressure you to ‘be merry’ but will allow you to express your emotions freely, whether it’s through sharing memories of your loved one or simply sitting in silence.

In addition to leaning on personal connections, consider expanding your support system:

  • Consider joining a Support Group: Sometimes, speaking with others who are experiencing similar feelings of loss can be incredibly comforting. Support groups offer a safe space to share your feelings and become part of a community that understands your pain can help you feel less isolated in your grief.
  • Consider talking to a Therapist: If your grief feels overwhelming, speaking to a therapist can be beneficial. Therapists specialize in helping individuals navigate complex emotions and can provide personalized strategies to manage grief. Therapy can be a space for you to explore your feelings in depth, understand your grieving process, and learn healthy ways to cope.
  • Engage in Community Activities: Sometimes, engaging in community activities, such as volunteering or attending local events, can provide a sense of connection and purpose. These activities can offer a gentle distraction and a way to feel part of a community, which can be particularly helpful during times of solitude or reflection.
  • Virtual Support: Virtual support groups or online groups can be good options, especially during the holidays. Virtual support can be more flexible, accessibility, allowing you to receive support from the comfort of your home.

Some tips for Self Care:

Take Care of Yourself: Self care does not have to be face masks or vacations- self care is reminding yourself to shower and wash your face, to eat foods that nourish your body and make you feel good, finding time for activities that bring you comfort or peace, like a walk in nature or a warm bath. Self care can look like saying no to events that feel like too much. 

Allow space for whatever feelings you have: Write in a journal, create art, or find another way to express your grief. Don’t feel pressured to keep a ‘happy face’ if you’re feeling sad.

Plan Ahead: Anticipate and plan for difficult moments, such as who is going to cook the Turkey. Decide in advance how you might handle these situations.

Reflect and Remember: Consider giving yourself time for reflection. Remember the good times and acknowledge that it’s normal for these memories to bring both joy and sadness.

Honoring your Grief:

Establish New Traditions: While honoring past traditions, don’t be afraid to create new ones that might bring a sense of renewal or comfort. Not everyone finds comfort in keeping traditions alive while some find comfort in creating new ones. Whatever may be your case, talk about any new traditions you’d like to implement.

Keep their memory alive: Don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief and sadness, they aren’t invalid. Talk about the great memories together, how much they were loved. Find caring and loving people to surround yourself with that will listen to you without judgment. 

Create a Tribute: Engage in an activity that your loved one enjoyed or donate to a cause important to them. This can feel like a positive way to keep their spirit part of your holiday. This could be as simple as leaving a seat open in the table in honor of their memory to visiting their resting place and leave a new set of flowers. 

In the mix of holiday emotions, where laughter intertwines with joy and sadness, it’s crucial to acknowledge the validity of your feelings. Whether you’re grappling with loss, remember you are not alone. In the middle of the festive chaos, there is a network of support and love waiting for you.

At Refocus Therapy Center, we recognize your worth, and your well-being matters. As we navigate this season together, may you find comfort, connection, and the resilience to embrace the holidays in a way that feels authentic to you.


Books on Grief:
  • On Grieving and Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
  • It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine
  • Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore
Support Groups and Communities:
  • The Compassionate Friends: A nationwide organization offering support to those who have lost a child.
  • GriefShare: Community groups that meet weekly to help people face challenges and move toward rebuilding their lives.
Hotlines and Crisis Resources:
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK): A critical resource for those experiencing severe grief and suicidal thoughts.
  • Crisis Text Line (Text “HELLO” to 741741): A text-based crisis line for emotional support.

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