Coping With Grief and Loss During the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching. At this time of year family togetherness is a primary focus in many homes. It can also be a difficult time of year for those who have lost a loved one. Instead of experiencing joy, many feel lonely and sad as they attempt to deal with their intense feelings of loss. I remember when I was a teenager and my grandmother passed during the month of October. I felt completely miserable. It became a struggle for my family and I to get through this time of year for the first time without my beloved grandmother. I never envisioned this time of year without her. She brought the season to life with her hearty meals, baked goods, seasonal décor, and most importantly, her cheerful spirit. As time went by, I learned to enjoy the holidays without her, but I thank my mother for this. You see, my mother knew that in order to heal from this tragic loss, she needed to keep the memory of my dear sweet grandmother alive for herself and her family. She did this by continuing holiday family traditions and making up new traditions to remind us all of this amazing woman who brought such joy in our lives.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter issue on grief suggests the following coping strategies that can help you or someone you know who is grieving during the Holiday season:

  • Start a new tradition. During a holiday dinner, place a lighted candle on the dinner table, leave an empty chair, or say a few words of remembrance.
  • Change the celebration. Go out to dinner instead of planning an elaborate meal at home, or schedule a trip with supportive friends.
  • Express your needs. People who are grieving may find it hard to participate in all the festivities or may need to let go of unsatisfying traditions. It’s all right to tell people you just aren’t up to it right now or to change plans at the last minute.
  • Help someone else. It may also help to volunteer through a charitable or religious organization. Make a donation to a favorite cause in memory of the person who died.
  • Give yourself time. The grieving process doesn’t neatly conclude at the six-month or one-year mark. It takes time. However, grief will lessen, soften and change over time. Don’t be hard on yourself and make unrealistic expectations.

Although these coping strategies may be helpful to many, it will not completely take away the pain that you or someone you know is experiencing. But, it allows one to adapt to the reality of their loss, thus, learning to find a new normal.

Grief is universal and expresses itself in many different forms. It can at times resemble major depression with frequent crying spells, depressed mood, sleep disturbances, and loss of appetite. Grief can also bring on internal experiences such as anxiety, fear of future loss, numbness, shock, difficulty focusing, anger, guilt, and fatigue. If you or a loved one is going through a difficult time with grief during this holiday season, the Dennis H. Jones Living Well Network is here to help and just a phone call away. Visit us at or call us at 901-762-8558. Remember to like us on Facebook at Living Well Network.

The author is Susan Picart, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who has served the Memphis community as a mental health therapist for at 9 years. She is a counselor at the Methodist Healthcare Employee Assistance Program.