Coping with Grief during the Holidays

Coping with Grief During the Holidays at Christmas

Whether your loss is recent or the holidays have brought an old loss to the surface, the holiday season can be an especially challenging time.


Grief is a time of re-assessing our priorities. It calls everything into question. It’s not uncommon for us to gain/lose friends, change jobs, or set new goals after someone we care about dies. It is also a time of taking stock of how we celebrate the holidays. Sometimes we need to make short-term or permanent changes in order to cope and ultimately make the holidays enjoyable again. Below are some suggestions to help you this holiday season.


Coping with grief during the holidays

  •  Find ways to remember your loved one. It’s important to feel like your loved one is remembered, missed, and incorporated into your holiday in some way. You might remember your loved one this holiday season by making a donation to a meaningful charity, volunteering in his/her memory, or lighting a candle. I buy special angel Christmas tree ornaments and donate to CLIMB in memory of my daughters.
  • Make time for yourself. The holidays are stressful, so it’s extra important to give yourself some TLC. We all need to take care of our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, but grieving can become so all-encompassing that we forget to eat, don’t sleep well, or keep ourselves so busy and distracted so we don’t have to feel our feelings. Instead, try to notice how you’re feeling — both emotionally and physically — so you can care for yourself. Usually, our bodies are great at telling us what we need; we just have to listen! Holiday self-care might include taking a day off and spending it in quiet reflection, writing in your journal, going for a hike, or seeing a therapist.
  • Give yourself permission to say “no”. Setting boundaries are a particular kind of self-care. Saying “no” is a way of preserving our time and energy for what matters most. And when we’re not feeling our best, it’s essential to mindfully consider what you want to do and what you don’t. This year you might decide not to attend some parties or family gathering.
  • Change some holiday traditions. Things are different without your loved one. It’s normal to reassess your holiday traditions. Some may no longer feel right. Some may feel more like obligations than joys. Perhaps you’d like to create a new tradition to remember your loved one. For example, I had clients who decided to rent a cabin and go away for the holidays; spending the holidays in their usual way with family felt too painful. Less dramatic changes might be lighting a candle in memory of your loved one or going out for Thanksgiving dinner instead of cooking at home.
  • Do something for others. It’s well established that giving to others helps us to feel better. If you feel up to it, consider giving of your time, talents, or finances by donating food to the homeless shelter or toys to Toys for Tots. Volunteering or giving can also help you regain a sense of control — it’s something positive that you can do when so much feels out of control and depressing.
  • Express your feelings. It’s tempting to hold your feelings in or numb them with too much alcohol of food. But expressing and processing feelings is extremely healing. Chances are you’ll feel better if you let your grief out by talking to a supportive friend, writing in a journal, or attending a support group. There are people who want to help and be supportive. It’s healthy and normal to ask for support. You aren’t alone!


Grief resources in San Jose, Silicon Valley

Many of our local grief support organizations host special holiday events for the bereaved. Please check their websites for this year’s dates and details.

HAND (Helping After Neonatal Death) – drop-in support group

Compassionate Friends  – Worldwide Candle Lighting

Kara Grief Support – Coping with the holidays workshop, candlelight remembrance service

Center for Living with Dying – holiday drop-in support group



©2014 Sharon Martin, LCSW
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Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.

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