Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching, there’s hope and cheer in the air. But for those who have lost a loved one it can often take herculean strength to get through it all. The grief that we bear when someone we love has passed, especially recently, can be triggered by the smallest things. A scent in the air, a song, a place or even just setting the table and counting one less place setting than before. You can go from humming along and enjoying yourself, to a stabbing ache in your heart and a grip in your throat that suddenly pours out in tears. That’s the way grief works sometimes, and though the triggers may be different for each of us, grief has its way with us no matter how we try to skirt it. Loss changes us and grief takes us on a ride through memory lane at a moment’s notice, especially during the holidays and special events. Whether the person who died is someone you cherished and miss terribly, or if they were difficult or harmful to you, the holidays can kick up the dust of grief.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says..”     ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

So, how might we enjoy the holidays while missing the one who is gone?

Let Them Be There in Your Heart 

Whether it is the first year or the twentieth year after your loved one has passed, you can honor your memories of them and let them be there in your heart. The year my dad passed,  Joe and I hosted our big family Christmas at our house. I cried a lot, on and off, as I made preparations for our family gathering. I tried to make everything just perfect, as if that would make all of us happy again. Through it all, I felt my dad telling me not to worry and not to fret, that everything would be alright. And it was. Different, but alright.

Slow Things Down a Bit 

When you have loved someone and they die, the earth keeps spinning and the world goes on around you as if nothing happened, and that can feel a little surreal. It is important to slow things down, take the time to honor them and feel what you feel for them, and take extra special care of yourself. Don’t do too much or wear yourself out. Ask for help. And take time to rest and breathe.

Leave Space for Them in a Different Way 

The first Christmas after my dad passed, I hung a sweatshirt and a hat he used to wear on the hook near the front door with a sprig of pine peeking out of the pocket. I put his picture on a lamp table in the living room with a short string of twinkle lights around it. And I laid out a stocking for him on the fireplace hearth. These were just little gestures of remembrance, but it made me feel better to include him in all of it. We served our big family dinner buffet style, so there were no table settings to count, just a stack of plates, and I secretly added an extra one for Dad. And that felt good too.

Make a New Tradition in Honor of Them 

Remember your loved one in your holiday meal prayer: At the end of every dinnertime grace, my dad always used to say, “And all the rest. Amen.” And we continue that to this day especially during the holidays.

Light a special candle in honor of them and place it in the middle of the table or in a prominent place in your home.

Make a toast to them and let each person add their own thoughts, a memory, or what they loved most about them. Or the toast could simply be a collection of funny or poignant words and phrases they used to say.

For those who have passed who have caused you pain or suffering in some way when they were alive, say a prayer for them and unburden your heart of any resentment or disappointment you had with them. Let your heart be light and breathe freely.

Often the best way to heal our own loss is to walk with someone else through theirs. Please feel free to add any new traditions or gestures of remembrance that helped you through a loss during the holidays. It could really make a difference for someone out there who is facing a loss this upcoming holiday season.

Peace be in your heart. My love to you.

Terry Barnett-Martin, LMFT, Licensed Relationship Therapist, Life Purpose and Leadership Coach, and award winning author;  (949)709-2445   Email: