Hanging on at Holiday Time

Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays  and the anniversary of a death can be difficult days in the grief process. That empty chair at the table is so obvious. The traditions we share can be brutal reminders of our loss.

Sometimes the anticipation preceding these days can be even more painful than the day itself.

Memories of past holidays, stressful or joyful, are brought to mind. Holiday music and decor in stores may activate our grief.

Although we can’t prevent these triggers, we can choose how we react. Here are some coping tools:

Communicate your needs

By expressing your needs and concerns clearly, you may cope better.

  • Discuss holidays in advance to avoid misunderstandings, resentment and disappointment
  • Discuss what each person needs to make it a special day
  • Put some activities on hold
  • Decide what changes will make things more bearable
  • Share responsibility for activities among several family members

Create new traditions

You may worry that changing or dropping a tradition risks losing it forever. Instead, view it as putting it on hold. You only have to decide for this year.

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

Cut back on activities

Grief is physically and mentally exhausting. You might also feel disoriented, disorganized or lacking in motivation.

  • Streamline commitments
  • Skip cards or send them moreselectively this year
  • Avoid stressful shopping by using gift certificates, catalogs and online shopping
  • Limit time at family and social gatherings
  • Touch base with family members and special friends, with limits
  • When an activity doesn’t feel good, withdraw

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 those no longer there
  • Make a gift or donation in your loved one’s name
  • Light a candle
  • Set out a photo or album
  • Share favorite stores or memories with friends and family

Include children

Many holidays are kid-focused, and children can be very sensitive to changes. At the same time, 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 the holidays will be different
  • Talk openly about what is important to you and the kids
  • Allow children to have a voice
  • Explain this holiday may be different, but still meaningful
  • Enlist help by asking a friend to bake cookies with your kids or take them shopping for gifts

Kids have different reactions based on their age and personalities, but open communication and involving them in holiday 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 parts of living.


Copyright 2014 © Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.

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