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When It’s the Holidays & You’re Grieving – 4 Tips that Might Help

What do you do when it’s the holidays and you’re grieving?

Some of the most meaningful, poignant emails I receive and comments left on the blog are from readers who are grieving and dreading the holiday season. The messages come from all over the world reinforcing what you and I already know – grief is universal, and grief doesn’t take a break during the holidays.

So why the heck is grief so often misunderstood? 

I wish I knew. I like to think our understanding about grief has come a long way. But it’s clear, we still have a ways to go.

Grief is not something to be fixed or a problem in need of a solution. It’s not something to get over. It’s natural. It’s part of life. It has no expiration date. It hurts. It’s messy. It makes people uncomfortable.

And it’s hard. Really hard.

For some, grief is even tougher during the holidays for obvious reasons. For others, ordinary days are hardest. And for most, of course, it likely makes no difference what day it is.

I wrote, Twelve Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Loss, my first year of blogging not that long after my mother died from metastatic breast cancer. It continues to be one of my most-read posts. It’s not even my “favorite” grief post I’ve written, but knowing it’s helped a few grieving people out there is one of the reasons I’m still blogging, and blogging about grief, I might add.

I decided to make a few additions to those original twelve tips. I want to know what your tips are, so be sure to share with a comment.

When It’s the Holidays & Your Grieving – 4 Tips

1. Say no as often as you darn please and stop explaining yourself.

When you’re grieving, you might not want to attend gatherings or participate in events. It’s fine to say, no. And guess what? You don’t have to give a reason why you’re opting out. A simple no thank you (along with thanks for thinking of me) will do just fine. Really, it will.

2. If you do go out, feel free to leave early.

Sometimes you do have to push yourself and go to a family dinner or whatever. But just like going in the first place is up to you, deciding how long to stay is as well. Have a plan B (exit plan).

3. Focus on self-care and then reach out when you’re ready.

I know self-care is kind of a buzz word these days. There are lists, articles and books about it all over the place. Some of it is helpful. Some of it is crap. But self-care when you’re grieving really is important. Try to eat right, rest often and exercise at least a little.

Above and beyond those three basics of taking care of yourself, whatever self-care means to you, do that. Soothing yourself by curling up under a warm blanket or cuddling with your furry companion instead of going to a party you won’t enjoy anyway might be the best thing for you. Listening to music works wonders. Alone time isn’t a bad thing. (I love it.) Choosing to spend time with those who “get you” is vital.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack and stop beating yourself up for not doing whatever you think you’re supposed to be doing. Say goodbye to guilt.

When you feel up to it, (and you will) venture out. Volunteer. Go to a concert or movie. Sometimes just sitting with other people in a crowd is a good way to start venturing out. Go visit someone. You decide what feels right and doable. You get to decide your timetable.

4. Start a journal.

I cannot recommend this enough. Writing your thoughts and feelings down can really help. A journal allows you to “put your grief” somewhere. Literally. Need some motivation to get started? Read my twelve tips to journal your way through cancer, or anything.

There is no manual for grief – holidays or no holidays. 

Eventually, you will likely enjoy the holidays again, but there will always be grief. There will be always be sadness.

Because you will always love and miss the person you grieve for.

And grief takes no pause for the holidays.

Below are a few more posts specifically about grief and the holidays. I hope they help. Remember in this you are not alone either.

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

I have quite a few other posts about grief on the blog, but I don’t want to overwhelm. When you’re grieving, feeling overwhelmed happens a lot, right?

If you’re grieving this holiday season, please remember you are not alone.

Others care about you. I care about you.

Who do you miss this holiday season (and every day, of course)?

Do you think grief is harder during the holidays or doesn’t the time of year or day matter?

Do you have a tip to add that might help someone?

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If you think this post might help someone, please share it. Thank you.

Grief & the Holidays, 4 Tips that Might Help #holidays #grief #loss #death #Christmas #Thanksgiving

Beth Gainer

Thursday 13th of December 2018

Nancy, I'm rejoining the blogging community after a long hiatus. The reason for my being away was 1. lack of time and 2. grief. It is so difficult for me to write about the grief that never leaves. I hate the holidays because it seems so many people give us the message to be happy when in reality I'm not. And dark days don't make me feel any better. As you know, I'm grieving my dad and aunt. The sorrow is immense. I just posted my first post in a long while because I was committed to doing it. I wish I could write about my feelings as they happen.

Maybe that should be my New Year's Resolution, except I don't make them and thus don't keep them.

Excellent post!


Wednesday 19th of December 2018

Beth, I have been thinking about you. I hope it helps to know that others understand and care. It's hard. It just is. I'm glad to see you back. When you step out, you are always missed. Take care of yourself, my friend.

Honey Bee

Saturday 1st of December 2018

These four tips are ones that have accompanied me through the grief of losing my husband to pancreatic cancer in November of 2011. That first Christmas found me with no family and alone. On such a social and family oriented holiday. Never again.

I chose from then on not to repeat that scenario. I decided to go somewhere, anywhere, with people. So the second year, I joined a tour from Canada to Nashville. Just four days, but full of celebration and feasting and company and song. Since that time, I have travelled at Christmas to New York City, Chicago, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Frankenmuth, MI, and Spain. This year I have booked a tour to Portugal. The itinerary, accommodations, and the festivities are all arranged. No fuss and no stress.

All I need to do is make a phone call. Then when friends ask "What are you doing for Christmas?" I have a ready reply. It is my way of caring for myself and preventing the stings of self-pity or other demoralizing emotions and avoiding undesirable situations. It gives me something to anticipate for at least six months (Christmas trips fill quickly so one must book early) and then beautiful memories to return to at leisure.

Learning what I needed to thrive during the holidays, a bit of forethought and some preplanning make the time something that nourishes rather than diminishes me. I have beautiful times on each trip. It really pays to take the first step and to venture out. If emotions surface and I need solitary time, I can always find it.

Thank you, Nancy, for validating those of us whose holidays are marked by grief and loss. I have sometimes gone to church services of remembrance held at this time of year for those in grief and found them helpful. I light a candle and the names of my loved ones are remembered aloud in the service.

All the best to you at this tender season of the year, Honey Bee


Tuesday 4th of December 2018

Honey Bee, I love how you have chosen to handle the holidays since your husband's death. Learning what you need and then doing that is a real accomplishment, I'd say. Thank you so much for sharing so candidly about your loss and how you deal with your grief during what can be a difficult time of year. I hope you have a lovely time in Portugal. All the best to you too. Safe travels.


Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Today I was overcome with grief as I put up beautiful Christmas decorations all over my beautiful house. Then I read this blog! The word "timely" really doesn't explain how I came to read this when I most needed to. What I grieve for most sometimes, and particularly today, is the person I was before the crisis of a cancer diagnosis. I miss the woman who used to find humor on the worst of days and who always had the confidence that good health was hers. I miss being the person who used to sing all day long, laugh long, hard and often and never miss a Christmas party. That all sounds sad, but that's only on some days. Days like today. Days when I need to spill it all out somewhere, like I am doing now. Because, as you mention, Nancy, grief makes people uncomfortable and I have learned to be careful where I share my deepest fears and hurts. And I miss people I loved who have died, although none died from cancer. The only way for any of us to deal with grief, or any emotion really, is to acknowledge it, honor it and experience it fully til we feel better. Whew! Thanks for providing a place to say so much about such a tough topic. And yes, Happy Holidays too!!


Friday 30th of November 2018

Andrea, I'm glad you read my post at a time that made it especially meaningful to you. I understand what you mean when you say you grieve for the person you were before. Such feelings bubble up for most of us. How could they not? I agree completely that emotions need to be acknowledged, honored and experienced until you feel better. Thank you for sharing. It's always safe to share here. Happy holidays to you as well.


Thursday 29th of November 2018

Beautifully said Andrea. God bless you!

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