Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How To Cope With Holiday Grief

What we call the holiday season is not always joyous.
Today, my brother in law's mother in law passed away. 

My family is no stranger to grief during the holiday season.  My father in law passed away on Christmas night.  This will be a difficult holiday season for some of our family members once again.

For all of humanity, coping with grief while others celebrate is a complex issue.

How do you support those who are grieving during a holiday?

Some Christian congregations, recognizing the stress those grieving during the holiday season undergo, started what are called "Blue Christmas" services.  Commonly, these are held on December 21, the longest night of the year in the Western Hemisphere.

For Orthodox Jews, people mourning their parents are expected to abstain from certain joyous occasions for a year after death.  For other family members, the time frame is shorter.

Muslims also find ways to manage grief and religious observances.

So, how else do people in our situation cope with grief during a holiday?  This is some advice from my previous experience when my father in law died.  I am not a mental health care worker or a physician; just a layperson who has been through it.  This is what worked for me.

First and foremost, talk if you feel the need.  Share good memories.

Have a good cry if it helps.  There is no shame in crying.

Lower your expectations.  Do holiday traditions help your grief or increase it?  If increase, then this year is not the time for it.  You keep it simple.

You cut back social obligations and only do what you feel comfortable doing.

You are kind to yourself and other family members.

You seek out support from those who have been there before you.

You realize that the pain will always be there, but it will diminish.  The night my father in law died, in the late 1990's, we watched the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" with him.  It was one of my favorite movies.  I never watched it again, but last year, I honored his memory by visiting Seneca Falls, NY (the residents there believe the fictional Bedford Falls was modeled after their city) and taking part in an annual festival that celebrates the movie.

Today is an international Giving Tuesday, which has become a movement for both charitable giving during the holiday season, and for donating hours or volunteer work to non profits.

This year, when you give, please consider supporting those who do not find the December holiday season a time of joy.

Have you suffered a loss during a holiday time?  How did you cope?


  1. A close friend of mine lost her daughter to an asthma attack on Christmas Eve. It was absolutely heartbreaking and still is to this day. My friend posts on FB about her grief and you can just tell how deeply she is feeling her loss and it makes my heart ache. I agree, talking, if someone chooses to talk, helps tremendously, as do sharing memories. Interestingly enough I have never heard of "Blue Christmas" but I'm going to look it up now. Maybe it's available in my friend's area. It may help her.. Thank you for this.

  2. There's this idea that the holidays are so happy and joyous. They aren't for many people. I have not had any losses during the holidays, so I don't have that issue. I think not having expectations that the holidays have to be happy is one place to start.

  3. I am sorry to read about the sad news.

    Losing a loved one is indeed a difficult period. I believe nothing we do or say can reduce the pain of the grief but like you said there are ways to overcome this. Talking to a friend or a family member about how we feel would allow us to convey our thoughts better and it could ease some pain.

    Thanks for sharing information about 'Blue Christmas'. This is the first time I have come across the term. I lost my maternal grand-dad almost 8 years ago right before an auspicious festival day and every year, whenever the date arrives, my mind is filled with his thoughts and his memories.

    Here's hoping and praying that this difficult period passes away quickly for your brother-in-law and family.

  4. Thank you for saying this. My father passed away in October, and Thanksgiving was a difficult day for us.


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