Dealing with Grief on Special Days and Holidays

Dealing with grief on special days and holidays can be difficult, when traditions can be sad reminders of loss. Memories of past times, stressful or joyful, come to mind. Here are some tips:

Communicate your needs

Clearly expressing needs and concerns may help you cope.

  • Discuss special days in advance to avoid misunderstanding and disappointment
  • Discuss what each person needs and wants
  • Put some activities on hold
  • Decide what changes will make it easier
  • Share responsibility for activities among several family members

Create new traditions

People worry that changing or dropping a tradition risks losing it forever. Think about just putting it on hold.

  • Have a meal or open gifts at a different location/time
  • Attend a different service with friends or create your own worship
  • If you dread a ritual, find an alternative
  • Choose a tradition or part of a tradition to keep that has meaning for you

Cut back on activities

Grief is physically and mentally exhausting. You may also feel disorganized or unmotivated.

  • Streamline commitments
  • Skip cards or send them more selectively
  • Avoid stressful shopping with gift certificates, catalogs and online shopping
  • Give yourself permission to leave early from gatherings
  • Touch base with family and special friends, with limits

Celebrate your memories

Having a constructive way to acknowledge your loss together is helpful. You might not feel like the best of company, but your family still needs time with you on special days.

  • Choose a special time or way to honor the departed
  • Make a gift or donation in their honor
  • Light a candle
  • Set out a photo or album
  • Share favorite stories or memories

Include children


Many holidays and family times are kid-focused, and children can be very sensitive to changes. But, kids are able to shift gears quickly and might still be excited about the holidays, even if you’re not quite able to feel it.

  • Discuss how things will be different
  • Talk about what is important to you and the kids
  • Allow them to have a voice
  • Explain this celebrations may be different, but still meaningful
  • Enlist help by asking a friend to bake cookies with your kids or take them shopping

Kids have different reactions based on their age and personality, but open communication and involving them in plans will make them feel important, valued and respected.

Give yourself a break

Remember, it’s okay to have some good times. Laughter and enjoyment are still important.


Copyright 2014, 2015, 2106, 2017, 2018 © Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of Journeys.