Coping with Special Days and Holidays

Holidays and special days can be challenging and stressful, especially when grieving the death of a loved one. They stir up memories, evoke powerful feelings and emotions, and can leave us feeling very disoriented.

Traditional routines are ended, never to be repeated the same way. Holidays are significant times of the year and are meant to be meaningful and enjoyable, and after the death of a loved one, they will be different.

These suggestions are intended to provide some tips, ideas or “food for thought” on how to cope with the special days that come up as well as the holidays.  As grief is unique to each person, some of these suggestions will work, others may not work so well.  This is a time where you get to experiment and begin to determine what works best for you. It’s important to remember not to compare your grief to others because it won’t be the same.  As well, be sure to treat yourself with patience and kindness throughout this time.

Feel free to share these with anyone who you think would benefit from them.

Get lots of rest. Take naps if you can. Sleep disturbances are a common experience of grief.

Grief is different for everyone. Some people cry more easily than others. And some people do not cry.  This does not mean that they are or are not grieving.  Keep in mind that everyone is different with the outward expression of emotion.  There’s no right or wrong way to “do grief.”

Adjust your expectations. While the inclination might be to do and see everything and everyone, set reasonable expectations for yourself and prioritize what can and can’t be done. Leave early if you need to or want to.

Take brief breaks. Be alone to sit with your thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to “feel the feels” when they come on and experiment with expressing the feelings in ways that are not harmful or hurtful to yourself or others.

Express your needs. We often find it difficult to tell those around us what we really need. Try to express your needs as others around you may not know how to help you.  Ask people for their understanding that you may change your plans at the last minute and withdraw from activities that don’t feel like a good idea to you.

Be thoughtful about holiday prep. Make a shopping list ahead of time, and shop on a day that feels good to you. Or order online and have everything delivered if it feels like the crowds may be too much for now.

Give yourself something special. That could be a special thought or message to yourself that you can hold on to throughout the season.

Give others permission to talk about your person who died. Often people don’t know what to say or how to talk with you about your loss.  It’s helpful if you take the initiative to talk about your loved one, and let others know it is important and helpful to talk.

Stay connected to your health team and those who know you well. If you find that your grief is seriously interfering in your routine day to day functioning, check in with your medical team for support.

Re-think traditions. Rituals and traditions of the past may no longer seem suitable or work for you. This is a time to re-think traditions.  They can be changed, and they can be resumed the following year (or not).

Remember that you are doing the best you can. Take time to acknowledge to yourself all that you are doing to care for others as well as yourself.

Remembering Your Person Who Died

Remembering your person who died is helpful in managing your grief during the holiday season and special occasions.

  • Share memories, pull out photos, play special music, light a candle – do something in memory of your loved one, and establish this as a tradition in the years to come.
  • Now may be a good time to start a new tradition by taking a glass jar with you to family functions, along with strips of paper and a pen – ask people to write down a favourite memory or thought of your loved one and fold it up and tuck it in the jar. The jar can become a favourite place to hold the memories, and to pull them out at family events to remember your loved one.  This tradition can be kept for many years to come.

Remember that it is okay to laugh and enjoy yourself. Enjoy the special moments when they come up – be kind to yourself and your family. And notice and acknowledge that there will be parts of the holiday that are more painful than others at times.  And that’s okay.

Creating a “New Normal” During the Holiday Season While Grieving

The holiday season likely feels anything but normal at this time. Family traditions may no longer feel possible or even feasible. Other people’s joy and happiness may feel disorienting if not downright irritating.  The last thing you may be feeling is joy and participating in all the celebrations. 

This is a natural part of the journey of grief.  It’s important to acknowledge the feelings when they arise, as well as provide some sense of balance between grief and joy because we know that it’s not healthy to only experience the negative feelings of grief all the time.  This means we’ve got to work a little bit to help provide this balance – and give ourselves permission to find enjoyment and comfort.

If you find yourself feeling “guilty” for having fun and enjoying yourself, remember that the key to healing is finding a balance between the sadness and living life. Planning for some positive activities for yourself (even if it feels difficult) will help with lifting your mood and will begin to provide a sense of meaning in this new world of transition.

Are You Grieving?

Have you lost someone due to a palliative illness? All of our grief and bereavement services are offered free of charge to our clients and their families.

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