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Coping with loss, grief & the holidays amidst a pandemic – six strategies to help

Grief and uncertainty are always exhausting. Throw in a pandemic and the holidays and things can quickly become overwhelming. How does one cope?

Of course, there is never a time when there is no grief. There is always sadness. There is always grief because there is always loss.

But these days, in large part due to the pandemic, it can seem like there’s a tsunami of loss and grief. Both just keep coming.

And now, the holidays are here.

Even during “normal” times, grief often intensifies during the holidays. For many, the holidays remind us of what once was and of who was once here.

I still get emails about and comments on one of my earliest grief posts, Twelve Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Loss.

It makes me sad that people are Googling this topic every single year. It’s also gratifying and humbling that perhaps I’ve helped a few people with my words.

Even if you’ve not yet experienced a loss of a loved one (not just from COVID but from any cause at anytime), the pandemic has likely changed your holidays.

We miss, yes, grieve for rituals we can’t be part of this year too.

Family gatherings might be cancelled. (Mine are.) Traditional social gatherings and holiday events are not being held, or if they are, not in the manner we’re used to. Even holiday worship traditions are likely being avoided by many, maybe even most.

With so much grief, so much sadness, how do you not become swallowed up in it?

How do you find joy during the holidays this year; is it even possible?

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do believe talking about these things helps.

2020 has been rugged, and there are still some weeks to go. It’s been a rough grief year.

Talk about understatements, right?

To date, we’ve witnessed the death of 270,000+ fellow Americans to a virus that just a year ago we knew nothing about. Models put out by experts predict more dire numbers are likely ahead in the coming weeks before a vaccine is widely available for most of us.

12/21 update: The death tally is now over 810,000 Americans. Let that sink in.

On top of COVID-related deaths, here in the US, we’ve lost icons such as Elijah Cummings, John Lewis and most recently, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others, too, of course.

We grieve for jobs, businesses and livelihoods lost.

We collectively grieve for black and brown lives stolen by police (no, I’m NOT saying all police are bad!) as well as those lost due to other social injustices – like the disproportionate amount of COVID-19 illness and death, inadequate access to healthcare and more.

We grieve for our planet whose ability to sustain future generations, and maybe even our own, is in question. We grieve for life and property lost to fires and hurricanes and floods.

We grieve for truth that seems harder to come by these days. We grieve for normalcy and what once were things we thought we could count on in our leaders, others we look up to and maybe even in ourselves – things like decency, honesty, integrity.

In Cancer Land, we grieve for amputated body parts, lives forever altered, damaged or even destroyed relationships, jobs no longer held, parents who will not see their children grow up, futures filled with uncertainty – just to name a few things.

And, of course, there is the relentless, ongoing and heartbreaking loss of people we care about, whether we’ve met them in person or not, who continue to die from cancer.

Unfortunately, the things I mentioned above only scratch the surface of things and people we grieve for. Each of us has different people and different things on our grief list, but the point is, everyone likely has a list.

So much loss. So much grief. So much uncertainty. And grief and uncertainty are always exhausting.

It’s no wonder many of us often feel overwhelmed, sad and physically and emotionally worn down these days.

Now that I’ve perhaps made you feel even more down in the dumps (sorry), let’s talk about what you can do with your sadness and grief; well, with some of it anyway because let’s face it, we can’t free ourselves from all of it. Nor should we.

So, what are some simple strategies for coping with loss, grief and the holidays amidst a pandemic?

(The following strategies combine suggestions from the article cited below combined with my own.)

1. Recognize it (grief). Feel it. Name it. Repeat.

Scott Berinato, author and senior editor at Harvard Business Review, recently wrote a piece titled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”. In his article, he shared the following words of David Kessler, renowned grief expert, founder of, and co-author of, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss:

There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us…When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion.

So true. I’ve been saying this sort of thing (although not so succinctly) for years now.

The following words of Kessler are also quoted in the above piece:

Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. 

I appreciate the suggestion that feeling your sadness, fear, anger and whatever else you’re feeling right now is your work. Give yourself permission to feel however you’re feeling.

That’s rather freeing, don’t you think?

Again, I’ve been saying this sort of thing for years.

Be real. Be you. It’s enough. Because it is!

2. Let go of what’s out of your control and focus on what you can control.

This keeps coming up again and again and for good reason. There’s a lot you can’t control, but there’s probably at least a fair amount that you can.

Try to focus on the latter. Easier said than done, I know.

It might be helpful to write down examples of things you can control and things you cannot. Doing so is validating and might offer some perspective.

Or perhaps try making a list of things you are sad about right now – the big things, yes, but the small things too. Then also make a list of things that give you joy.

Even if your list is very lopsided, you will see there are still things on the “joy side”. Hopefully anyway.

3. Figure out things to do that might make you feel better.

Sometimes, you need a specific action you can take or a place to “put” your grief or sadness. Maybe it’s journaling, lighting a candle for a loved one you miss or for those who’ve died from the virus (even if you don’t personally know anyone who’s died from it), engaging in an online support group, participating in protests to support Black Lives Matter, or getting active politicly to help move forward issues that matter to you.

We’ve all heard about how many people started decorating early for the holidays this year. There’s a simple reason for that. It made them feel better.

On the other hand, if it makes you feel better to decorate later or to do less, do that! (That’s what I’m doing. Less.)

Reach out to others, do something for someone else, donate to your local food bank. (Sending money might be easier and safer this year.) Taking some sort of specific action usually results in you feeling better.

4. Kindness and compassion go a long way. Offer them to others, yes, but don’t forget to offer both to yourself too.

Grief is exhausting. Fear is exhausting. Worry is exhausting. Longing for normal is exhausting. Cut yourself some slack. Okay, a lot of slack. Offer the same to those around you too.

And practice self-care. If you don’t take care of you, no one else is going to do it.

5. Stay connected as best you can with people you care about and who care about you.

Grief can be lonely. The pandemic can be lonely. Cancer can be lonely. Making those connections, even if only virtually, helps.

6. Do your best, persevere and remind yourself this (at least some of it) is temporary.

As Kessler reminds us:

It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.

Amen to that.

And seek help to keep going if need be. Because no one should suffer alone.

Have you been feeling overwhelmed with sadness and/or grief more frequently these days?

What are your suggestions for coping with so many kinds of loss?

Share one or two of your losses (any kind), if you want to.

To get more articles like this one delivered weekly to your inbox, Click Here! #KeepingItReal #SupportYouCanUse

Coping with #loss, #grief & the #holidays amidst a #pandemic #coronavirus #traditions #mentalhealth Christmas

Below are a few more posts specifically about grief and the holidays. I hope they help:

When It’s the Holidays & You’re Grieving – Four Tips that Might Help

Cancer, Grief & the Holidays

Grieving Doesn’t Stop for the Holidays

Grief & the Holidays – 10 Tips that Might Help

There Will Be Tears at Christmas

Six Tips to Help Manage Holiday Stress After Loss

Kristie Konsoer

Sunday 6th of December 2020

You are so right that there always is grief because there always is loss. Your third point is so important to help live in between those times when we aren't in the throes of grief: "Figure out things to do that might make you feel better." On another note, like you, my holiday gatherings aren't happening this year either. I feel relieved in many ways because I don't have to take unneeded risks. It will still be a Merry Christmas.


Monday 7th of December 2020

Kristie, Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what might make you feel better, but usually there is something that might help at least a bit. Planning to enjoy the holidays this year despite the fact our celebration will be very small and now, even smaller since we've said goodbye to Sophie. But it will still be a Merry Christmas, though not all moments need be merry. Nor should they be. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment too.


Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Well....I just have to say that this year has multi-sucked, big time......... It is so difficult to comprehend the sadness, the madness, the badness, and the whole darn crappy mess................ I hate this feeling of being ripped off again........ My time, my life, my sanity.....another deleted year 2016 was stolen from me with the breast cancer dx 2018 was stolen from me because my brother was stolen from me and died of bladder cancer and now 2020 has been stolen from myself and every single other human on this planet ..............and even the planet is being stolen from us Our loved ones are being stolen from us! I'm pissed!........and I am overwhelmingly sad ..........and paranoid of getting this virus seems to be never ending and I am so worried about my family and friends and I thought worrying about a cancer recurrence was bad...........

But other than all that, I'm doing okay...............getting by............:) My annual mammogram/ultrasound (gulp) is coming up on Dec 24 Yup, that's right, Christmas Eve day...........someone else had canceled The next available time slot would have been April 2021 merry freakin christmas.............. But you know what? I ain't gonna let it all bring me down too much............ I bought new solar Christmas lights for outside and I already cut a bunch of pine boughs and plentiful holly branches with red berries they are in piles on my lawn since last week but I really am gonna decorate the little fence and a little tree outside and cheer up this joint! Gonna make a wreath, too........ Just being outside and breathing fresh air and getting a little exercise will do wonders for my soul Went to the beach at sunset today, it was brilliant orangey, red, that always scrubs me soul, too Aaaarrhhh......... I bought myself new fuzzy pajamas and slippers Still not wearing jeans, embracing all my "leisure wear" It's gonna be a loooong winter................... I do still have hope though. Even with all this disappointment we've suffered this past year I hope that next year at this time, I will read this and 2020 will be just a bad, sad memory ........ things will be better........they just have to be...............


Saturday 5th of December 2020

Tarzangela, Yes, 2020 has definitely sucked. Big time. You've experienced a lot of loss in recent years, and that does take a toll. So much to worry about and to feel sad about. Still, we all carry on as best we can. I love all your decorating plans. I hope you were able to get that done. If not, that's okay too though. I'm decorating way less this year. But I'm still doing it. In fact, I'm taking a little break right now and responding to your comment. Good luck with your mammogram. Yeah, no fun to have to do that on Christmas Eve. But better than waiting until April I guess. You're very lucky to live close to the the ocean. It's so rejuvenating, restorative and restful all at the same time. Thank you for sharing and happy holidays to you.


Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Dec 27, 2015 was the last time I saw my dad. He was over for christmas. The next day he was an instant. Fast forward to christmas 2018 and now I am dealing with cancer and recovering from my mastectomy. Christmas 2019 was another surgery..a smaller one but still surgery. I was really hoping for a "normal" christmas this year but Covid won't let that happen. My daughter probably can't come home and she will probably spend it alone. I am feeling so incredibly sad. I am sad not just for my loss but for everyone's loss...there will be empty spaces at so many tables this Christmas.❤


Saturday 5th of December 2020

Diane, I'm sorry your dad died so unexpectedly, and I'm sorry you've been dealing with cancer and all the baggage that brings. I hope you and your daughter can stay connected virtually. Of course, that isn't nearly the same. Many of us are having a very different holiday season this year. As usual, it helps to know we aren't alone. Like you, I'm sad for everyone's losses - the big ones and the smaller ones too. Thank you for sharing. My best to you.

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