7 Steps For Handling Grief During The Holidays

Ken Corr

Grief to Endure

When I was eleven, my older brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. The grief for my family and for me was overwhelming. Years later, I read a description of grief from Wendell Berry in The Lost World, that summarized what I was feeling as an eleven year old: “There was no place where what had happened had not happened.” In other words, there was no place that I could go, and nothing that I could do where the pain of loss was not with me. Grief can’t be escaped. It must be endured.

That is especially true during the holidays. We can never take a holiday from grief. Instead, the holidays exacerbate the feelings of sadness, anger, and loss. The holidays are reminders that life will never be the same because of the loss, and that is a painful reminder.

How Do We Grieve?

There are many ways that people deal with grief during the holidays. Some of these methods are unhealthy. Avoidance is a strategy that some people use to get through the grief of the holidays, which can take several forms. Avoidance by numbing with alcohol or drugs makes matters even worse. Increased activity and busyness are also forms of avoidance that don’t help. Isolation and withdrawal is another strategy that some people use that is likewise not helpful.

Help for the Holidays

So what are some helpful ways to grieve during the holidays? Here are seven ideas to try.

  1. Anticipate and plan. You can anticipate that the holidays will be difficult and plan the time so that it does not catch you off guard. If you do not plan for your grief, it may be more difficult than you expected.
  2. Allow time to remember the deceased and share stories. Talking about the deceased and sharing stories can be a very healthy way to grieve. A collective time of family sharing is a way for the grief to be shared.
  3. Plan to visit the grave, columbarium, or another site that was sacred to the deceased.
  4. Write a prayer of thanks to God for the deceased in which you list all of their wonderful attributes and the ways that they were a blessing to you. Once the prayer is written, you can decide if you want to read it out loud to others.
  5. Have an imaginary conversation with the deceased in which you say everything that never got said in life. Some have found that using an empty chair for this exercise is helpful.
  6. Attend a grief support group during the holidays. If you plan ahead, you will know exactly where a group will be meeting. It helps to know that you are not alone and that others are also in grief.
  7. Give yourself permission to grieve in whatever form your grief takes. Don’t let others prescribe what you “ought” to feel or do.