Holidays & Grieving


November 25, 2023


Holidays and Grieving

Staying connected while honoring your grief. 

“How can I celebrate without my loved one?”

Celebrations of any kind are intended to be happy and joyful. When you have lost a loved one, it is common to approach special days with dread and caution. What has been surrounded with anticipation, energy and joy in the past suddenly is filled with pain and sorrow, knowing the one you love will not be present this time. 

It is confusing when you want to feel the holiday spirit, but what you feel most is an empty and longing heart. Grief is an appropriate response to loss, yet with it is a kind of awkwardness when we face a special occasion or holiday when it seems everyone else is excited and busy preparing for a happy time. 

Know this struggle is common to many and you are not alone. While you may be tempted to completely escape a particular occasion, there are things you can do to manage it, to honor your grief while staying connected to others you love during holidays and special days.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Accept the pain and conflict you feel is normal.

Grief is not a weakness, but sometimes it feels like it. Realize it’s normal for your energy and internal resources to not be functioning at your usual strength. Consider where you want to give your focus this time and set aside guilt for doing things differently this year. 

Stay close to your journal. 

Remember to stay in touch with yourself and how you are feeling. Check in with yourself regularly and write down what you are experiencing. Jot down what is helpful as you grieve and what is meaningful to you. Your grief work will impact your perspective and most likely allow you to be more open to others you love, if not today, then maybe tomorrow. 

Journal prompts: 

  • One year, the holiday I especially loved was…
  • One aspect of the holidays I want to preserve is…
  • The holiday gift I cherish most from my loved one is…
  • The thing about the holidays that seems the hardest is…
  • If I could sit out of one thing this year, it would be…
  • I hope people understand…
  • One thing I could do to carry on his/her legacy is to…
  • Thinking about my faith…
  • This year I am most thankful for…
  • I hope to spend some time over the holidays with ___, because…

Think about the activities of the occasion. 

What is most meaningful to you? Is there an aspect of the holiday that you feel would be the most difficult for you that you’d like to change or sit out of? How can you communicate your love with those who will be present with less energy this time? 

Talk with your family members. 

Share your thoughts and ideas with those who love you and ask for their support and understanding. They may be grieving as well and need some things to be different, too. Collaborate on ways to most meaningfully celebrate with all your shared resources. 

Discuss how you will include your loved one.

Or ways to honor the grief that is felt. Sharing the memories of your loved one, while difficult, may be one way of remembering them and healing your grief as a family. Consider where each of you are at with your grief and how open you want to be about the empty space you feel. 

Continue your loved one’s legacy together. 

Choose a way to help others as a family that reflects the passion your loved one had. Feed the hungry, help an older adult, do something for an animal, plant a tree, or volunteer where they used to volunteer. In which ever way(s) they influenced you, do something similar for someone else. 

Give a gift to someone else that you might have given your loved one. 

Give the gift of kindness in honor of your loved one or as a family, complete something they left undone. 

Take care of yourself.

When you get enough sleep, eat well-balanced meals, and don’t overextend yourself, you will be in the best position to enjoy special days with those who remain. 

Remember that you are in charge of your own grief. Do what is right for you, even if someone else handles their grief in a different way. Your greatest gift in staying connected with those who remain is to grieve in the way that makes the most sense for you. Although we must learn to live with loss for a lifetime, the hardest work of grief is for just a season. Take one day at a time and be true to yourself. Your healing is working its way within you, even if you can’t see it today. Honor your memories and the love you shared with your special one. What a gift you had sharing life with them! You still have them in your heart. Treasure them always. 

May you find balance in honoring your memories and enjoying the present during this holiday season. 

Source: Rev. Linda White MDiv, BCC, Heart To Heart Hospice, Fort Worth, TX

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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