Handling Grief and Loss During the Holidays

Handling Grief and Loss During the Holidays

The holidays surround us with messages that this time of year should be full of joy and cheer and be spent celebrating with friends and family.

As wonderful as that sounds, it can feel like a lot of pressure to those of who are dealing with loss during the holiday times.

We want to take a few moments to acknowledge that the holidays can be a time where many of us may feel both joy and sorrow. And we want to offer some ideas for families that are navigating complicated feelings during the holiday season.

  • Explore what feels best: Every family copes with the loss of a loved one differently and engaging in that unique process in an important part of healing. Take time to discuss as a family what feels right for you during this time.
    • Some families may decide to turn down big holiday events or traditions as it may be too much. In some ways, grief can give us space to reevaluate what brings us joy and what things we can discontinue. It’s ok to say no.
    • Other families may find it helpful to continue with holiday engagements or to explore new holiday traditions.

In the end there are many different ways to be during the holidays. What’s most important is that as a family you come up with a plan that feels right to you. Remember to be gentle with yourselves.

  • Connect to something larger: The holidays provide many opportunities to get involved and could be a nice way for your family to remember your loved one while also giving back to your community and others needing support. You could volunteer as a family for a cause that was meaningful to your loved one.
  • Create ways to remember your loved one: Talking about and sharing memories of your loved one shows everyone in the family that you can talk about things that make you feel both sad and happy. Here are a couple of suggestions for keeping the memories of your loved ones alive and present during the holidays.
    • Create a memorial ornament in honor of your loved one (https://whatsyourgrief.com/holiday-grief-activity-for-kids-teens/ ). There are many different ways to decorate the ornament. This can also be an activity where each family member can express his or her feelings and creativity.
    • Set out paper and writing materials for friends and family to write/draw about their favorite memories. At the end of the night go around and share them with each other.
    • Light a candle in memory of your loved one and let it be a reminder of their love and strength you have to keep going.
  • Find “one good thing”: When we are in pain and/or in the grips of sorrow, it can help to find things that instill a sense of gratitude. This is not to say that we should deny or hide our painful feelings or act like everything is ok. Instead, making room for gratitude can give us strength and provide a sense of grounding to handle the tough road ahead. Researchers explain that practicing acts of gratitude is like a boost to our mental health immune system, which can be especially important during times of grief and crisis. This can be a powerful tool to model for kids as well. Some ideas we found included:
    • As a family go around and share 3 good things that happened that day
    • Give a compliment and model giving compliments to one another, friends and/or community members
    • Encourage family members to find pictures, words, poems that bring forth gratitude and then post them around your home for all to see.

It is not easy to go through the holidays missing those who can no longer be with us. We hope some of these ideas can provide a way to keep their memories alive as well as provide pathways to healing and bringing your family closer together during this time.

Websites with additional resources:








Image: © Pathathai Chungyam| Dreamstime.com


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Emily Peterson
Emily Peterson worked with the KITS program for several years. She has interned at elementary schools and DHS, training with children in the foster care system prior to coming to OSLC. In her free time, Emily enjoys a good laugh, game nights, food and taking walks with her two dachshunds.


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