Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Coping With Grief During the Holidays

I talked a little bit in last week’s newsletter and on Instagram about how this is the first holiday season after my Mom’s death in February. (I’ve since created a workbook on Grief. you can check it out here) There are some days when I don’t think about it and other days when it feels like it’s the only thing on my mind. These past few weeks it’s more the latter. The holidays are hard for so many reasons anyway that grief can add another layer.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. Not even close. This post is not written from a point of “these are things I’ve done and they will heal your grief”. Nope. I’m right there with you trying to take my own advice. Grieving and hurting and mostly trying to pretend that I’m okay and that everything is okay and that I’m a well-adjusted woman who can process things like that *snap* and be fine.

I am still grieving.

And I was reminded how much I am still grieving when I was at work the other day. We were asked to work an extra day right before Thanksgiving (retail and Black Friday you know) and I thought that aside from a little bit of annoyance, I was okay with it. I started calculating overtime and planning what I was going to buy with extra $ and forcing myself not to think of the reasons why I was really sad.

  • Feeling like a terrible daughter because Thanksgiving was my Mom’s thing and because of my relationship with my step-dad, I always skipped it.
  • It’s almost been a year since she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
  • I miss all of the leftovers and goodies she used to make me.
  • She will never get to meet my partner who I am so in love with.
  • I don’t have a Mom anymore.

So you know, heavy feelings.

I decided to ask my boss if I could skip the extra day. I went into it planning to be a Mental Health Warrior. You know, end the stigma, open conversation, it’s okay to struggle. Part of me wanted to say I had plans that I couldn’t cancel but it’s also really important to me to change the way we talk about/deal with mental health in the workplace. Even if it ends and begins with me. So I rehearse in my head, I need that normal day off because it’s my first holiday without my mom and I know it’s going to affect my mental health and I would rather be home than working a ten-day stretch, during the holidays, with only one day off and being mentally and physically exhausted.

I can do this. Easy peasy, I got this. (Plus I have pretty great bosses). I barely get the sentence out and I dissolve into tears. And those tears continue for over an hour. Completely unexpected meltdown. All because I said those words out loud. I can write them and think them and I’m okay, but saying it out loud that this is the first holiday without her – that’s the thing that gets me.

Here are some tips for coping with grief during the holidays for you and me.

Talk about it.

With friends, family, therapists, loved ones. Say the words out loud until they don’t feel like a sucker punch to the gut. You don’t have to be okay. You don’t have to worry that bringing it up makes you a downer and ruins the holiday spirit. Let yourself be okay with talking about it. Ask for memories and stories from the people around you. Don’t try to erase – embrace.

Surround yourself with people who love you, who hug you, and who listen to your feelings.

Create boundaries.

(It’s probably hard, do it anyway) Asking for that day off because I couldn’t do it made me feel so guilty. Even afterward I felt like it was cop-out, that I was playing the ‘death card’, that it made me weak. I was pretty hard on myself the whole next day but I kept rationalizing and rationalizing and rationalizing. I kept telling myself it was okay to need that. That I shouldn’t feel guilty. My mind and I go at it like that all the time – we have to. If I listened to everything my brain said without fighting back – well, I’d be miserable.

Create boundaries with where you spend your time and energy. Imagine that you’re giving a set of “50 Holiday Points”. Each thing that you do is either a -/+. Spending time in your jammies watching the Grinch is +5 points. Going to a holiday party is -20 holiday points. Make sure that you spend them wisely.

Set realistic expectations.

You’re probably going to have periods of depression. You might not want to celebrate in the way that you are used to. If you want to take this holiday off and spend the time ignoring it – you know what? Go for it. If you’re not ready to process it or if you don’t feel like faking it till you make it – don’t. The world won’t end. Focus on hygge and self-care. If you need to tone down the social activities or spend more time with your loved ones relaxing at home – let yourself.

Allow yourself to feel all of your feelings.

There might be some messy and unexpected ones thrown in there. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Resentment and anger are normal parts of grief. Feeling those things isn’t bad if you understand why you’re feeling them. Grief can manifest itself in so many ways – exhaustion, a short-temper, anger, resentment, frustration, impatience. When we see where our feelings come from it’s easier to manage our reaction to them.

There might be some messy and unexpected ones thrown in there. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Resentment and anger are normal parts of grief. Feeling those things isn’t bad if you understand why you’re feeling them. Grief can manifest itself in so many ways – exhaustion, a short-temper, anger, resentment, frustration, impatience. When we see where our feelings come from it’s easier to manage our reaction to them.

You’re also allowed to be happy. You can have fun and laugh and make wonderful Christmas memories and that says nothing about how much you loved the person you miss. It doesn’t mean your love is/was less. You don’t have to force yourself to feel sad and depressed because that’s what grief is supposed to look like.

Practice Self-Care.

I wrote Self-Care for Grief earlier this year and Self-Care for the Holidays. If you want to keep your mind on something light, positive and fun – try out my Winter Self-Care Challenge. Most of all though – check-in with how you’re feeling on a regular basis and then listen to that need, whatever it is. That’s the most life-changing part of self-care. It’s the one secret, key, the magic – to happiness, to life, to everything. Listening to that gut feeling about what you need and then doing it even when it’s hard and uncomfortable – that’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

Find a way to honor them.

An old tradition, a new tradition – do something that helps you honor their memory. For me it’s food. My mom used to make these amazing sugar cookies during the holidays and my favorite memories are decorating them with her and my sister. I asked my partner to make them for me and it was such a lovely way for me to merge my grief and feelings into something positive.

Watch their favorite movie, light a candle for them, create a playlist of their Christmas favorites. Embrace their memory but do it gently.

How are you coping with grief during the holidays?


  1. Hannah Cykowski
    December 18, 2018 / 9:24 am

    Great advice, particularly about setting boundaries. It’s my first Christmas too. I hope you’re holding up okay ?

  2. Maria
    December 21, 2019 / 5:56 am

    Honestly, thank you so much for this. I love the content you create cause I need to be reminded of these things. I have been feeling really alone about grief and learning how to handle it. I have so many deadlines coming up and I feel so sad, because it has only been 20 days since my grandma died. Thankfully, I have amazing teachers and a great support system, but I still want my mind to be able to be a lot less spaced out and sad so I can get on with this. I know that is not the right way of doing things, so this has reminded me that if today I feel like not doing work, that is okay? Thank you for everything you do, you truly have impacted my life in many ways and I feel so understood, always. Thank you.

  3. Nancy Achin
    October 16, 2020 / 4:23 pm

    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been trying to say. I lost my husband of 21 years just two months ago, and the holidays are rushing at me like a freight train with no intention of braking. I don’t know how to do alone the things we always did together…and here come the tears…they’re about the only reliable part of me lately. This is what even CONTEMPLATING the holidays without him does to me. Having someone else tell me it’s okay to skip them this year makes me feel a little less selfish. Maybe I’ll be ready for them next year….

  4. Jenny Lynn Rice
    November 20, 2020 / 9:24 am

    Thank you. The past 26 years from October or so until just after the first of the year have been really hard for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever made peace with the death of my 2 month old daughter on December 31, 19994, 11:55pm. I watched the incident take place but couldn’t stop it. At the hospital, I held her tight against my heart for the 3 hours it took for her to take her last breath. I still wrestle with it and I have people tell me to get over it already, it’s been long enough. Or I am told to not be depressed anymore, instead celebrate the time we had. All I want to do is rip their face off so maybe they can feel a touch of what I feel. Losing a child is the worst pain and it never goes away.

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