Getting Through the Holidays While Moving Through Grief

Grief and loss are hard any time of year, but the holidays can make things worse. There are a lots of positive pieces out there about how to take care of yourself, but I'm pretty sure this is going to be one of the only ones that tells you it's OK to eat directly out of the container AND it's OK to tell someone to go F themselves. 🤷

During holidays, we may feel or BE more alone, we may have concerns about how traditions are going to go, who is going to follow the roles that the other person left behind, and you might be scared (even subconsciously) about weight gain, family members, work, money, and all kinds of other things. We may also try to push our feelings down or pretend we're fine, even when we most definitely are not fine. We may not want to answer anyone's questions. All of these things are expected and human.

When I first started writing these sorts of articles, I gave a bunch of my own experiences - but I have discovered the wealth of experience and knowledge on my Facebook page. I've asked people there to weigh in, and if you click here or below, you'll see a lot of great ways to move through the holiday season. These tips are for new grievers and those of us that have been at it for a bit, and I love them!

My thoughts:

Seeing others happy and loving during the holidays can make things extra painful. I remember sitting at Thanksgiving years ago, shortly after my husband passed, absolutely seething that I was left alone and by myself. I was heartbroken, angry, and starting to spiral down into intense jealously watching my family with their loved ones all together. It wasn't a good look on me, but that's the way it was. I had to go outside, put my music in and take a walk. (Plus they didn't have jellied cranberry sauce and it just added to my misery.) Over the past nearly 9 years, my coping skills have morphed, but there are some basic concepts I still use.

My own personal steps for dealing with holidays while moving through grief:

1. Remember the value of quiet time. One of the biggest stressors you may have to deal with when the holidays are in full swing is the lack of personal time, and all of the questions of "how are you doing". It's easy to get sucked into your own head and start the spiral. Take time for yourself so you have the energy to engage with others. I keep headphones with me at all times so if I need to shut down, I can. During most family gatherings, I would leave every 30 minutes or so. Almost 9 years later I still use this technique.

2. The power of "no". Don't feel like living up to expectations and doing the traditions you used to? That is OK! In order to work through your grief, you need to feel ok about setting boundaries that say "I'm not comfortable with this." or "Yeah, no, I'm skipping the gratefulness circle around the table this time around."

3. New memories will not replace old memories. Want to do the traditions you used to do, even though others don't? That is also OK! New memories will never, ever replace old memories. You do what makes you comfortable and feel the best! Sometimes keeping things going helps others and yourself, even though they may not expect it.

4. What are you grateful for? No, really, I'm serious. Don't roll your eyes and run away please. Re-framing to a thought of gratefulness does help me, even if that grateful thought is "I am so grateful there is the good cranberry sauce and not that other shit". Chemically your brain will appreciate this re-frame.

5. Conversely, telling anyone who suggests you should think about what you're grateful for, to go F themselves, is also OK. When I discovered I could do this (even if it was only in my head) the angels sang. People are well meaning, weird, and sometimes during the holidays, a little bit tipsy. They might also be a writer named Hannah who can't deal with life unless she find something she's grateful for. Ahem.

6. Say their name. Talk about your loved ones, and tell others you LOVE to hear stories. This is important 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road. Talking about them and the funny stories around them keeps their spirit with us It also communicates to your loved ones that you are OK and happy to hear the stories. It will help their grief, too!

7. Have a plan. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is not think about what you're going to do if everything is just too overwhelming. My plan has always been to have my headphones and music with me, along with my anxiety medication just in case, and a solid person who knows I may have to leave. Over time, it has certainly gotten better, but I always plan just in case my anxious PTSD brain comes out to play!

I can't stress enough, that even in the darkest times, we can have great joy, but forcing yourself to feel good can make things worse over the long term. Don't try to live up to anyone's expectations. Instead, try to incorporate these habits into your daily routine so you can be as mentally ready as possible.

  • Exercising each day. Some days that was 5 jumping jacks and a pretend sit up session where I actually just cried and the dog tried to give me his toy.

  • Eating right to provide your body with the fuel it needs for energy. Chocolate is medicinal, but make sure you're getting something good in that stomach, too! Even if it's directly from the container.

  • Planning something special so you can relax after the holidays are over. Even if it's (drinking directly from) a bottle of wine on your own couch with the TV on, and your phone off, set aside some time to shut your brain off after the chaos.

  • Being kind to yourself. The last and most important step - and the reason for this website. Give yourself the Time, Grace, & Space to be kind to yourself. Don't berate yourself for not being farther along, or for crying out of nowhere. You are human. Instead, take time each morning to compliment yourself on how far you've come. You can do this.

What are your thoughts on moving through grief during the holidays? I'd love to hear your stories. And please be sure to share this if you know anyone who could use these tips!

Want to support my work? Buy me a cold brew! Every donation gets me closer to publishing my book of grief essays.

Much love! Hannah