Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Mental Health Post - Wandering Nobody Travel Blog

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This post is a part of Nicole Carman’s mental health-related holiday post series, “Taking Care of your Mental Health during the Holiday Season.” To see the post line-up for the previous and remaining posts in this series, please visit this page on Nicole’s blog, Navigating Darkness. If you enjoy this post, please comment and consider sharing it on social media!

I’m so excited to be a part of this series. This topic is not part of my typical content, but I jumped at the chance to join these amazing bloggers. Taking care of ourselves is important and something I feel strongly about. When the holidays roll around, we want to put others first, but we need to remember to consider our own feelings, too. This was difficult for me to write for several reasons. But it was therapeutic to put some of my own feelings in words. I hope you enjoy this and you take time to check out the rest of the series. Happy Holidays!

Coping With Grief During the Holidays Featured Img

Grief – noun – deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.

Grief is such a strong feeling with a definition that doesn’t touch on the magnitude of its’ impact. It doesn’t explain the effect it has on one’s body, mind, and overall being. Grief is a natural response to any type of change – not just deathIt’s not a disorder, it’s not a diagnosis, but it’s still a tidal wave that can consume your life. 

adult alone anxious black and white

Grief has also been defined as conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in familiar patterns. That’s a closer definition, but “conflicting feelings” still doesn’t seem strong enough.

It’s safe to say we’ve all felt grief about something at some point in our life. Whether it be a loved one passing away, an injury that caused an end to sports, not getting into your dream school, or a friendship/relationship that ended.

Grief is often seen on the surface as sadness, but it really is conflicting feelings. Maybe relief is mixed in with sadness, or anger, or betrayal.

However you feel or whatever it was caused by, I’m here to tell you that your feelings are valid, you are not alone, and take your time to deal with it in your own way. Reach out for help, reach out for someone to talk to, reach out for people who understand what you’re going through.

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It’s not easy.

Let’s open up the discussion. The holidays are quickly approaching. For some people, the holidays are a magical time filled with family, love, and togetherness. For others, it’s a reminder of what is missing. And for some, the holidays are a time where you feel love and happiness on top of your grief.

What do you do during these times? Do you put on your holiday clothes and a smile so you can head out to dinner with family and friends? Do you feel guilty if you don’t attend an event because you don’t want to bring others down with your sadness? How about even feel guilt because you’re feeling sad or mad or frustrated at a time when your supposed to be happy and joyous (or guilty because you’re not feeling sad or mad for a moment)?

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How is that healthy?

I’m not saying it’s not the easy way to go along – forget about it until next year, and keep up the charade year after year. It is. But it’s not beneficial to you and it’s not dealing with what is causing you this pain.

So what are the solutions? Are there any? Do you just keep going through the motions?

I mean,  you can. But what does that solve?

Scenario: I grew up doing the same thing every holiday. My grandparents would come to my house (they lived next door), as would a lot of my family. Christmas morning I’d wait to open presents until my grandparents walked over. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner were spent with my whole family, including my aunt, uncle, and cousins. My grandpa passed when I was 16, but the traditions continued on with him in spirit.

My grandmother and my dad passed away within a 2 years time of each other. After that happened, all “normal” holiday traditions were rocked and quit existing. My mom really tried (and still tries) to keep some normalcy, but it’s not normal to me (see: old normal vs new normal). The first year I went to Christmas with my step-dad’s family, I felt wrecked. Not because of who they are – they’re amazing people and are so welcoming to my family. But because it was a holiday that I was supposed to be spending with my family and with my 22 year old traditionsI remember feeling so confused, mad, sad, and frustrated that weekend. I shouldn’t have been upset because the family is amazing and they are my family now, but I was sad because I missed my traditions and the people that are no longer in my life.

I also felt awful because I should have wanted to be there, but I didn’t. It was so internally conflicting.

First Family Picture - Wandering Nobody Travel Blog
First Christmas with new traditions

What is one to do in that situation? We’re expected to just go and continue on – and at some point we should.

But if you need to take a holiday or two to do what you need to grieve and get in a better mental state for next year…by all means do it.

Grief doesn’t ever go away, you just learn how to function with it as a part of you.

Holidays magnify the loss you’ve occurred.

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How to help yourself cope with grief this holiday season:

  1. Be honest with yourself that it is going to be difficult.
  2. Feel the grief, even if it’s pain. If you ignore it, you’re only lying to yourself. Allow it to happen; it’s natural, it’s normal, it’s valid.
  3. Incorporate your loss into the holiday. Maybe you light a candle at dinner, make your loved one’s favorite dish, watch their favorite movie, or engage in a conversation about them.
  4. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t add on to the internal feelings by making yourself feel bad and don’t do more than you want to/can. It’s OK to say no. It’s also OK to give yourself permission to enjoy moments.
  5. One tip I’ve read that I’m going to quote exactly is, “Prioritize and don’t over-commit.  Save your energy for the events that are most important. Rank what you have to do in order of importance, plan for the most important, and skip the rest.”
  6. At the same time, don’t isolate yourself. You can say no, but try not to say no to everything. Sometimes the best medicine is surrounding yourself with people you love, even though you want to stay in the comfort of your own company.
  7. Try to build old traditions into new traditions. If it was a specific event or a specific person, see if you can combine the old and new to make something special.
  8. Coping with grief is as individualized as the trigger that caused it. What worked for Jane may not work for you. You and Tim might be grieving over the same thing, but you deal with the feelings differently. If it works, embrace the fact that you found something.
  9. Reach out. If you need to talk, find someone to talk to. Maybe that isn’t a family member or friend, but an online friend. Or maybe a professional. Or if it gets to a point that you need immediate help, there are many free hotlines that are available to you. There is also a list at the end of this post.

How did I work my way through the grief?

Good question. Losing someone is never easy. Losing two very important people in your life fairly close to each other isn’t easy. Combine that with being barely in your 20’s and not handling some situations like an adult before they passed because you figured you would have a lot longer with them and it’s a bombshell.

Working through this post has really taught me a lot about how I have dealt with my grief in the past. The loss of my grandma, dad, and all holiday traditions has been dealt with in layers. The metaphor of an onion is coming to mind.

At first, I was incredibly sad. I was sad that I lost two important people in my life. I was sad that I lost the only traditions I knew. I was sad that things wouldn’t be the same.

Then, I was mad. I was mad that life threw cards at me that I wasn’t ready for. I was mad that the universe thought a fragile college student could handle that stress. I was mad I didn’t have my traditions anymore. I was mad at myself for not handling certain situations before they died with more maturity. I was mad that I never got to say things that I wanted to.

For a while, I was nothing. I accepted it, I ignored my mad and sad feelings.

Today, I’m sad, mad, frustrated, and I’m OK. Some days, I’m all of those things, some days I’m only one. It’s still with me everyday, but I’ve developed my own strategies to feel my grief and continue living.

I honor my loved ones every day. I talk to them on a daily basis, ask for their advice, catch them up on my life, and sometimes just tell them I love and miss them. Around times that I know will be more difficult, I remember the amazing memories I have and cherish the fact that I was given those moments. Sometimes I talk to someone else about a memory or just their overall presence.

I allow myself to be grateful for the new memories, new traditions, and new family that has been incorporated into my life.

What are ways you have found to cope with grief during the holidays? Share your story and thoughts in the comments if you’re comfortable. Maybe it will help someone else process their feelings as we approach the Holiday season.

I obtained the following from

Free Hotline Numbers

SAMHSA’s behavioral health treatment services locator is an easy and anonymous way to locate treatment facilities and other resources, such as support groups and counselors, to treat and manage depression.

If your depression is leading to suicidal thoughts, call the National Hopeline to connect with a depression treatment center in your area. The Hopeline also offers a live chat feature for those who don’t want to (or are unable to) call and can dispatch emergency crews to your location if necessary.

This national hotline is another valuable resource for people whose depression has escalated to suicidal or other harmful thoughts. Their network of crisis centers provide emotional support and guidance to people in distress and are also available via a chat service and a special hotline number for the hearing impaired: 1-800-799-4889.

  • National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663

This resource provides brief interventions for youth who are dealing with pregnancy, sexual abuse, child abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts. They also provide referrals to local counseling, treatment centers, and shelters.

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