Coping with Loss and Grief During the Holidays

December 4, 2023, Gilchrist

Coping with Loss and Grief During the Holidays

The holiday season is often associated with joy, celebration, and togetherness. However, for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be an incredibly challenging and painful time. This can be especially true for the first few holiday seasons after experiencing a loss.

“The Holidays bring a slew of traditions that, in grief, are just so hard to bear,” explains Donald J. Hohne, M.Div, BCC, PCC, Gilchrist Kids Chaplain and Clinical Lead for Spiritual Care.

Gilchrist is here to let you know that you’re never alone, especially when coping with loss during the holiday season. We are here to provide you with strategies and insights to help you navigate this season with comfort and meaning.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Grief doesn’t follow a set timetable, and it’s essential to give yourself permission to grieve, even during the holiday season. One of the most important steps in coping with grief during the holidays is acknowledging your feelings and understanding that the holidays will be different. It’s normal to feel sadness, anger, resentment, or even relief amidst the festive cheer. Accept whatever you are feeling, as well as the inevitable ups and downs. Be gentle and patient with yourself and remind yourself often that you’re doing the best you can!

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is crucial when dealing with grief during the holidays. Take time for yourself physically and emotionally. Practice mindfulness, engage in activities that bring you comfort, and prioritize your well-being.

Set Boundaries

It’s up to you which activities, traditions, or events you can handle. You are not obligated to participate in anything that doesn’t feel doable. Remember that others can’t read your mind. Let people know that it may be a difficult day for you and that you may need to leave an event early or choose not to come. Remember, it is okay to decline invitations, take breaks when needed, or have an “exit strategy” for when you feel the need to leave.

Modify Traditions

Modifying traditions as a way to cope with your loss is not only okay, but can also be a healing path forward. Plan altered activities (especially helpful the first holiday season after the loss) that create new memories. Hold a virtual family gathering, change the holiday menu, or have a meal delivered from a grocery store or restaurant. It’s okay to limit your decorations, distract yourself with a project, watch sports, play games, or watch movies. Remember to give yourself permission to skip the holiday altogether and treat it like any other day if that is more comfortable.

You may decide to do an alternative from traditional gift giving this year. If you find it too difficult to walk into a store where decorations and music can trigger intense reactions, shop online instead or donate to a charity or organization in honor of a loved one. Instead of buying gifts, it may be helpful to give personal items in memory of your loved one such as a photo, clothing, piece of jewelry or another item that belonged to them.

Plan Ahead

Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. So, while dinner may only last two hours, you could easily spend weeks dreading it. Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish.

Have a ‘Plan A’ but also have a ‘Plan B’ in case your first idea for coping does not work out the way you had intended. Rather than ride with other family members to the traditional family celebration, you may choose to drive yourself so you can leave if things get too overwhelming. You could also plan to arrive just in time for dinner or dessert. You may even decide to skip it all and relax at home. Having a plan gives you more control over an unexpected situation.

Create Tributes and New Rituals

Doing something positive in your loved one’s memory can help you feel more connected to them during the holiday season. Consider creating a special tribute or memorial in honor of your loved one. This could be a scrapbook, a letter, or even a charitable donation in their name. Dedicate a prayer or religious service to the loved one’s memory. Plant a tree in memory of your loved one. Make your loved one’s favorite meal. Making time to reflect on their memory can be a powerful way to recognize the impact your loved one had on your life.

Seek Support

You don’t have to go through grief alone. Reach out to friends and family members who are understanding and compassionate. Sometimes, attending a support group or speaking with a therapist who specializes in grief can also be immensely helpful in processing your emotions.

Grief Support Groups at Gilchrist

Gilchrist is available to support you during this season through grief counseling and bereavement events. Additionally, our Facebook grief group, Gilchrist’s Grief Group, is a great virtual space to express yourself.

Gilchrist also offers extensive grief support services to those grieving a loss. Gilchrist’s grief support groups encourage mutual support and understanding by providing an environment where participants can discuss topics related to grief, explore their feelings, and learn coping strategies. Below is an overview of our offerings:

Coping with loss and death during the holidays is undoubtedly challenging, but with time and self-compassion, you can navigate this difficult season. Remember that it’s okay to grieve, modify traditions, seek support, set realistic expectations, practice self-care, create tributes, and find a support group. Your loved one’s memory can continue to live on in the love and warmth you bring to the holiday season.

To learn more about Gilchrist’s grief counseling services, support groups, and bereavement events to anyone in the community who has experienced a loss, visit


Goyer, A. (2020, December 11). Dealing With Grief During the Holiday Season. AARP.

Morgan, T. (2018, December 12). Are you grieving this holiday season? American Psychology Association.

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