Navigating Holidays and Special Occasions While Grieving

November 27, 2020, Counseling & Support, Gilchrist, Grief

By Laurel Freeman, LCPC, NCC, CT

celebrating loved ones, counseling awareness month
Laurel Goodrick, LCPC, Gilchrist Grief Counselor

The ups and downs of grief can be rough terrain to navigate, even during normal times. When holidays, birthdays and anniversaries roll around, you may find yourself on shaky ground—especially if you are unable to gather with loved ones due to the pandemic. However, there are tangible things you can do to get through these special days and even seek comfort and meaning.

Expect some uncertainty about how you will feel on the holiday or special occasion and some dread for knowing your loved one will be missing. Reassure yourself that these feelings are a normal part of grief and then take action. Being proactive can give you a little boost and help you take back some control over your life.

Here are some ideas for getting through the next special occasion.

  • Plan ahead, talk to family or friends about what you’d prefer to do.
  • Set your expectations to something that feels realistic. Instead of thinking, “I should be happy and put on a good face,” tell yourself, “It’s enough to show up and just be.”
  • Gather on a deck, porch or in a backyard—use a fire pit or an outdoor heater.
  • Plan a hike with friends or family.
  • Have dinner together using your app of choice, e.g.,  Zoom, Google Meets, FaceTime or Skype.
  • Decide if you’re comfortable gathering. Don’t allow people to pressure you. Call ahead and find out what the arrangements are—indoors or outdoors, how many people and if everyone will be asked to wear masks. 
  • Be flexible about plans. Have an A Plan and a B Plan, and tell those involved you may shift to your back-up plan at the last minute.
  • Have an “exit strategy” for when you feel the need to leave.
  • Distract yourself (yes, that’s a healthy and OK option) with a project, watching sports, playing games or watching movies.
  • Give yourself permission to skip the holiday altogether and treat it like any other day if that is more comfortable. Instead, binge watch comedies or your favorite series all day.
  • It’s OK to feel relief. Sometimes that’s the natural response.
  • Focus on the meaning or rituals of the holiday or special day rather than the celebration aspect.
  • Write a top 10 list of favorite things about your loved one. Share it with someone else who misses them or post on social media.
  • Make your loved one’s favorite meal and enjoy the process, the memories and the food.
  • Talk to a supportive person about how you’re really feeling. Just opening up to one person can bring relief.
  • Join a Facebook grief group, such as Gilchrist’s Grief Group, and express yourself there. Another good one is Grief: Releasing Pain, Remembering Love & Finding Meaning by grief expert David Kessler.
  • Remind yourself often that you’re doing the best you can!
  • Spend time with comforting, positive, encouraging people. Limit time with negative, critical people who offer unhelpful advice.

It may be a strange consolation to know you are not alone in your grief during this pandemic. So many others are trekking through this very rough terrain. It matters that we try. It means something that we can honor our loved ones by summoning newfound courage, trying to be brave and finding ways to survive the day.

For the latest CDC recommendations concerning small gatherings of family and friends, visit

To learn more about Grief Counseling services at Gilchrist, visit

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