Navigating Grief During the Holidays

The pain of grief tends to surface with great intensity during  “milestone” events.  Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are typical events that are associated with our grief journeys. The intensity of grief is usually highest for many during the first year that these milestone events are experienced. However, people will experience pain of varying intensity during these milestone events beyond the first year. There is no timetable to resolve grief and in many cases; journeys are lifelong. Experiencing pain at any time during the process is to be expected.

Under normal circumstances, preparing for any holiday can be stressful as well as tiring. When a loved one dies, completing these holiday tasks become complicated by the intense pain of grief and the physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that accompany it.   Our grief may be so painful that we question whether to celebrate the holidays at all.

Although there are no sure solutions as to how to prepare for the holidays, there are some things that may be helpful:

–         Educate yourself by reading books or articles on grief and attending a lecture on coping with the holidays.

–         Identify strengths or strategies that helped you adjust to previous losses in your life. These may be losses related to death or losses not related to death (e.g., divorce).

–         Try to develop as much support from family and friends as you can. Tell them that the holidays may be emotionally and physically draining for you, and how they can best help you during this time.

–         Allow some time to feel sad. Have a good cry if you need to.

–         Be careful with use of alcohol and medications, either separately or together.

–         Save your energy for the most important things.

–         Delegate! Let others share the workload by preparing food and helping with decorations.

–         If you need quiet time, take it.

–         If you aren’t up to a large family affair, have a scaled down gathering with a few close family members and friends.

Others may have difficulty saying the name of your loved one for fear of upsetting you or because they are uncomfortable with their own feelings. You may decide to initiate the discussion of your loved one and may be hesitant to do so because it may be very painful. That is completely understandable, but the pain may be lessened or replaced by joy due to some wonderful shared memories. Plus, we want to say and hear the names of our loved ones.

The anticipation of the holiday season and the days leading up to it may be more stressful than the actual day. Also, if there are certain holiday functions that you don’t have the emotional strength to confront, it is ok to avoid them. Remember, you can grieve as you see fit!

David J. Roberts became a bereaved parent after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer at the age of 18. You can read more of his work here: This article was originally posted on

Photo Credit.


  1. Stacey Fairfield said on December 23, 2011 at 12:49 pm ... #

    Thank you so much for your article. I will take your advice as this is my first Christmas without my darling father. He died 6 months ago and I think that his death is finally hitting me. I am the oldest so I had to be the strong one, the one who had to make sure my mom was ok and I don’t think that I ever truly grieved my fathers death. I am having such a hard time right now, and really don’t know how I am going to get through the holidays. I am so tired and so depressed. Thanks again for your article!

  2. Janet Macy said on December 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm ... #

    My son died 25 years ago. I had to change the way we did Christmas. No tree for a couple years. And then a new tree with totally different type of decorations.

    Believe it or not, it’s only been the last few years that our family (siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins) have started talking about Terry.

    It started after I wrote a tribute to him on my blog and then sent it out to all his cousins, Aunts, and Uncles. It was as if I had given them permission to talk about him.

    If I’d known that I would have done something 24 years ago.

    Stacey – be kind to yourself. Take it slow. Don’t allow other’s expectations to run you. It will be hard, but just saying “I can’t do that this year” with help. I literally went away to another state and visited family the first Christmas. I could not stay home. Do what you can do. It will get better.

  3. Kim O'Donnell said on December 24, 2011 at 5:09 pm ... #

    It’s our 3rd year without our daughter,Vanessa, and 6 years without my Mom. Christmas was their favorite holiday of the year. Both made such a huge deal out of it. The first few years were hard, but they do get a little easier as time passes. I get through the holidays by remembering all the good times we had with them while they were here with us and knowing that they wouldn’t want me to continue to be upset. Our son, William, makes Christmas possible for my husband and I. Through the tears and the laughs, seeing his smile makes it all better! Hang in there and do what you can and if you can’t do it this year, then there is always next year or the next.

  4. Linda Arnold said on November 5, 2012 at 8:58 am ... #

    I lost my 58 yr old sister in a motorcycle accident August 11, 2012. It’s only been 3 months and I have tried to be strong for her 3 daughters and their families. It is eating me up inside just knowing what these holidays are going to be like. My Mom lives with us and we are both in denial. We lost my dad in Dec. of 2005. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with and am trying to figue out how to get through this years holidays and still be there for the girls. I just wish I could of told her goodbye and given her one more hug.

  5. Dave Roberts said on November 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm ... #

    Hi Linda:
    Please accept my condolences for the death of your sister. Three months is not a long time to even begin to fathom the reality of your sister’s death. There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays after the death of a loved one. Trust your inner voice and do only what you have the energy to do this holiday season. Understand that the days leading up to the actual holiday may be more stressful than the day itself. Also, try to find some way to honor your sister’s memory; I have found that doing that with my daughter Jeannine ,has helped me navigate those significant days.

    Wishing you peace

  6. Dave Roberts said on November 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm ... #

    @Stacey: I am sorry that it took me so long to respond to your post, but I only began to recently start looking for comments to my articles on this site. Please accept my condolences for the death of your father. I recall all too well, the stress of the holidays in the early phase of my grief following my daughter Jeannine’s death. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

    I am glad my article was helpful.

    Wishing you peace.

  7. Dave Roberts said on November 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm ... #

    @ Janet. Thank you for the great response to Stacey’s post. I already apologized to Stacey and I will to you for the tardiness of my response.

    Please accept my condolences for the death of your son.

  8. Dave Roberts said on November 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm ... #

    @ Kim. I will sound like a broken record to Linda and to Stacey, but my apologies for not responding sooner to you. Please accept my condolences for the death of your daughter Vanessa and your mom.

    I have found , like you that the holidays have become more manageable in the aftermath of my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003. Ritual and ceremony have helped me develop a measure of peace during those times.

    Take care

  9. Trevor said on November 29, 2012 at 9:10 am ... #

    A God-fearing family member may become seriously ill, as Job was, and may even succumb to the enemy death. The bereaved may shed tears of grief, even as Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. (John 11:35) But how comforting it is to know that God will call and those in his memory will answer! It will be as though they had returned from a journey—not ill or impaired, but in sound health

  10. Beth said on December 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm ... #

    I lost both my parents 2 years ago. Since then I’m not in the mood or even able to tolerate putting up a tree, decorating or even going to holiday parties. I don’t want to put a damper on the holiday celebration of others so I politely decline invitations and instead take care of things that I don’t usually have a chance to due to work or my hectic schedule. I’ve found that friends who I thought would be understanding are not so understanding and trivialize the loss of my parents. As a result, I am moving to severe a number of the relationships. Them comparing me loosing both my parents to them having a bad day at work or a break-up is completely ridiculous and in poor taste.

  11. Dave Roberts said on December 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm ... #

    @Beth. please accept my condolences for the death of your parents. It is not uncommon to not want to celebrate the holidays, or do decorations or anything else that is associated with it in early grief. A lot of times in the early phase, it is about survival. The biggest thing is to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. I also found the my relationships changed tremendously after my daughter Jeannine’s death, mainly with my mothers extended family. it is what it is, however and now I am glad to have people in my life who support my journey. I wish the same for you.

  12. Sue said on November 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm ... #

    I lost my father on 8/15/11 and my mom on 12/3/11. They were together 64 years and had moved to a home we built for them 5 years prior. I miss them so much. I don’t know what to do. Everyone thinks after the year of firsts it is better. It is, but in some ways it is worse. With the holidays coming, it is so much harder. I just want to feel happy again…..

  13. Anonymous said on November 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm ... #

    This year is so hard. My dad had died of cancer almost a month ago today. My boyfriend died 4 months ago to the disease of addiction. I had 3 thanksgivings last year. They were both here. I cry still everyday just about. The pain in my heart is great. My mom tells me it’s a broken heart. My dad was my best friend my boyfriend was the love of my life. May they rest in peace. I kno they r in a better place nor they arnt suffering anymore. Tears. I’m doing my best to take care of myself. I have so much support today. Im hanging in there I’m working on staying positive. I’m only 25 and I have a long life ahead of me. I wish everyone that has lost someone in there life to stay strong. Xoxo

  14. Brittany said on December 3, 2013 at 7:40 am ... #

    @Anonymous I’m sorry that you have had so much loss at such a young age. My sister and I struggled with the same as our mom died in Nov. 2007 and my sister’s boyfriend died two years prior. I will tell you this journey is difficult and it doesnt get easier but YOU get stronger. Ironically i was finally able to put up a tree last year as it was our last year in the house our mom lived on before she passed. I used to fill the holiday with work but I realized life would have passed me by. I want to encourage you to do a little something to include your passed loved ones but dont let your life pass you by due to greif. Im syre youd dad and boyfriend wouldnt want that. Next year i will have my own house and I plan on creating new traditions while doing some of my mother’s favorite things like playing her favorite christmas cd and making the dressing just like she did. I love you and I pray God strengthen you each year and each day.

  15. Gina Garcia said on December 12, 2013 at 1:29 am ... #

    I lost my husband in 2012 my dad passed away 5 months ago. I am having such a hard time. I have not been able to sleep. I use to love the holidays, family and friend members tell me that my husband of 28 years would not want to see me like this or me so unhappy. I use to be such a happy person, now I keep all the heart ache inside. I try not to go to the mall or anywhere that I can see all the Christmas lights even inside of someones home. Everyone in my has moved on parties and enjoying the holiday but me when will the pain not hurt so much and when will I be able to enjoy life again. Thank you God bless

  16. Connie said on December 12, 2013 at 1:35 am ... #

    I am such a mommas girl and I lost her 3 months ago, and to be quite honest my mother was a reason for living. And as it comes closer to the holidays I don’t want to do anything or even be around the rest of my family. And I just don’t even care about living with out her sometimes. And as the holidays approach I could even care less about living.

  17. Haley said on December 12, 2013 at 11:00 pm ... #

    I lost my dad when i was 11 and my mom at 29, 3 yrs ago and i fall apart every year, not so outwardly just to those closest. I’m irritably and straight up b***hy. I wish I knew how to cope with the holidays. This always affects my relationship

  18. Andrea said on October 8, 2014 at 11:48 am ... #

    My husband of 38 years died a month & 1/2 ago and I’m sort of dreading the holidays, only because everything else is so hard and I’ve just been trying to get through daily life alone for the first time in my life. We married at 19. He was home on disability for his back the last 8 years but was such a handy guy to have around… I’m going to work every day but trying to navigate doing absolutely everything myself now and still dealing with household accounts, banking, social security (which I can’t get yet because I’m too “young” at 56). My three grandchildren are the light of my life and I don’t want them to think that there will be no happiness anymore; their dad is fighting cancer too and my daughter is so stressed. So my inclination is to have Thanksgiving, put up a tree at Christmas, and try to have a little bit of tradition and normalcy… for them and for me.

  19. Christy said on October 24, 2014 at 2:25 am ... #

    My mother died just over 5 months ago and I’m trying to find out what to do before the wave hits, because I have a unique perspective on things, considering- I have ADD, so certain things, like a mother who taught me how to manage my “specialty”, as she called it, without medication, means I thik about her every day as I go about doing things because I hear her voice in the back of my head, telling me how to do things that, while are now ingrained, was a struggle for both of us, what with us both being strong willed. I say all this with the hope that your article will help me cope with the holidays, because I know they’ll be hard for all of us this year.

  20. Sandra said on November 7, 2014 at 10:56 am ... #

    My only sibling, older sister, died suddenly March 14, 2014 which knocked the wind out of me. The hardest thing I had to do in my whole life was to tell my 90 yr old dad and 87 yr old mom of her passing and then go and tell her only daughter, 21 and away in school. Both mom and dad had health issues. Then June 8, 2014 my dad passed and Sept 6, 2014 my mom passed. In less than six months I lost my whole family. I don’t feel like celebrating like before. I really just want a quiet time but even if I know that the holidays are going to be very difficult but I have decided to confront them head on knowing that God will give me the strength and grace to get through. I hope that by doing this the next holidays will be easier.

  21. delia said on November 17, 2014 at 1:57 pm ... #

    I have a friend who’s dealing with the death of her son. He died in a tragic car accident in March of this year, so this will be the first holiday season that she will be experience without her son. While I know and understand that saying, “how to make it a little easier for her” are not exactly the words I’m looking for but I want to do something special just to show her that she is loved and cared for. My question is how? Any input or suggestions I greatly appreciate it thank you.

  22. Jessica said on November 22, 2014 at 3:32 am ... #

    I found this site searching for comfort. I losses ny mother 07/31/14 while on vacation with my 3yr old days before his bday. My heart is heavy I do not care to entertain. Reading all the feelings I have being normal human reactions has brought me comfort. The days leading to thanksgiving and Christmas are horrible. I feel resentful,angry,sad so many emotions at once.

  23. Sherry said on November 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm ... #

    This is my 1st Thanksgiving without my son in 29 years.My Michael passed away Sept 5 2014. He was the best son that God could bless a woman with.My angel on earth.He was a live wire and made the holidays for our family.I so dreaded this day.Everyone keeps texting n calling to say Happy Thanksgiving.. I wish people would just say I’m thinking of you instead of Happy Thanksgiving..(its not a happy time for a mom without her son or a loved one).Think before you say!!!

  24. Sue said on November 30, 2014 at 10:30 pm ... #

    My husband of 27 years passed away on Oct 3, 2014. We thought after his diagnosis that we might have 3 years. We had 10 months. All my family live north and Midwest. I feel so guilty, like I shouldn’t want to have a Christmas, that I should only mourn. I don’t know what to do. Half of me has died

  25. Christina Lawson said on December 7, 2014 at 10:13 am ... #

    I lost my Son Justin on 10/2/14 and I don’t know how to get through the holidays .My daughter avoids being here sometimes at my home and my younger son won’t come out of his room. It’s just too much for my heart and trying to be strong for them sometimes. But i feel like I don’t have a complete heart…he was 18 and someone hit him on his motorcycle that he had less than a month. I feel like I barely get to mourn bc my other children need my strength….its alot God be with us

  26. April said on December 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm ... #

    My mom passed away on March 10, and even though it has been several months without her, I feel so sad. I am literally Numb. I have my husband and children, but that is a different love. I am not decorating my house the year for Christmas because I don’t feel the spirit. I feel exhausted just thinking about bringing all this stuff out. Thanksgiving was bad enough, lots of tears. December 14 would have been her 82nd Birthday, so December has always been filled with so much celebration for our family. I pray God will hold me tight during this Christmas. I miss her, I always will.

  27. Wanda said on December 15, 2014 at 3:08 am ... #

    I lost 2 of my beloved sisters, who were also my best friends for 53 yrs, to cancer 2 hrs apart from each other on the same day, 8/10/13. Part of me died that day too. I think I got thru the 1st Christmas without them because we were all so numb. But this year seems to be even harder for me. I’m so much more aware of the emptiness & what is missing. Getting together with our parents & all of our own children on Christmas Eve was a tradition we never broke. I am dreading it, as there are some family members, like my daughter in law, who feel that it’s time to suck it up, put on a smile & fake my way through it so I don’t make anyone else uncomfortable. If it weren’t for my grandchildren I’d sit this one out & pray for it to be easier next year. I wish I could sleep through it & wake when it’s over. I’m so sorry for anyone who has to live with this level of grief.

  28. Jayne said on December 21, 2014 at 10:34 pm ... #

    I am so sad. My beautiful son Andrew passed away May 28 2013. How does a mother go on? I am dead inside

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