Grieving Through the Holidays

Grieving Through the Holidays

Grieving through the Holidays written by Emily Mahoney, LCPC MT-BC. As December rolls around, holiday music fills the air, the lights are lit, and the world becomes a more festive place. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” or at least that’s what we’re told it’s supposed to be. Except that, if you’ve experienced a major loss recently, the holiday cheer may feel especially dissonant this year, during a time when grief can become amplified and make one feel especially isolated. For those grieving, the holidays can become a painful reminder of the absence of a loved one and life permanently altered. 

We often think of grief as reserved for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, but it may be just as difficult to cope with the loss of a relationship, loss of a job, loss due to estrangement, and miscarriage or fertility-related loss. In fact, these losses that are less visible can feel even more difficult and complicated; these losses often come with less support and more isolation. These losses can come with a cascade of other types of loss, such as the loss of normalcy or the loss of a future imagined. 

On top of the feelings related to loss, such as sadness, numbness, anger, and depression, grief can also manifest in physical and mental ways such as aches and pains, feelings of moving slower than usual, brain fog, fatigue, and forgetfulness. Changes in sleep or appetite due to grief may also make it very difficult to participate in holiday festivities. 

One of the most common things I’ve heard as a therapist about grief is, “this isn’t what I expected it would be like.” If you’re worked with me in therapy, we’ve probably discussed how there isn’t one right or wrong way to grieve, yet we can get stuck on expectations from ourselves and others. We can also get stuck on those questions that drive anxiety about our grief, like “What’s wrong with me?” and “Will it ever get easier?” These can keep us from accepting the way that we actually feel and doing something about it. 

As we approach the holidays, here are some ideas and questions that may help to approach this season with more self compassion and gentleness:

  1. Acknowledge that it will feel different this year, and that’s normal. You’re on a different wavelength from the celebrations around you this year, and that may be difficult. Allow yourself to consider what feels right for you. Does it feel right to dive headfirst into holiday decorating? Does it feel right to cancel the holiday all together? What feels right for you may be different from what you expect or what you feel others expect.
  2. Adjust your expectations for yourself. Holidays already involve a significant amount of pressure: decorating, shopping for gifts, hosting family, planning meals, etc. Tasks that once may have seemed joyful, or at least manageable, may now seem impossible. What can you do to take the pressure off your responsibilities this year and to ease the stress?
  3. Plan your supports. If you were planning the recovery from surgery, you would likely make a plan of how to take care of yourself and ask for help from those around to support your recovery. Grief requires that same care and recovery. First make sure your basic needs are met: what can you do to make sure you are eating, hydrating, and sleeping. Who can you reach out to for help? What are some comforting things that can soften this time for you? 
  4. For a death related loss: honor your loved one. What can you do to honor the person who died and feel more connected to them? Maybe it’s lighting a candle in their honor, serving their favorite dish, displaying a photo, or listening to their favorite song. 

For a non-death related loss, what is something you can do to honor yourself for the loss you’ve experienced. 

The quote by grief educator, Alan Wolfelt, comes to mind: “If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.” It is precisely that–the grace we extend to ourselves–that can help us through this time. 

Looking for some additional resources, check out some of these below:

Support groups:

David Kessler Free Holiday Grief Support group

Grief Share’s Support Groups

Grief Support Group sponsored through Women’s Wellness Lounge

Fostering a Vibrant Life in the Wake of Personal Loss – Baltimore


Grief Podcasts- Compilation

Songs That Heal- Music Therapy Tools & Techniques for Grief

Coping With Grief During The Holidays

4 Things- Grief During the Holidays w/Megan Devine- It’s OK That You’re Not OK

Additional resources/articles:

What’s your Grief

How to use music to cope with grief through the holidays

Journal prompts:


Guided meditation:

Free Meditation- Compassion During the Holidays

Holiday planner:

Grief Sensitive Winter Holiday Planner

For children:

7 Tips to Support Grieving Children during the Holidays

Looking for some Counseling for Grief issues please reach out to us at