Handling the Holidays: Adjusting to the Loss

Handling the Holidays: Adjusting to the Loss

For some of you, this is not the first holiday where you will be missing people you love. You “survived” the holidays last year but maybe just barely. Perhaps you feel like you can’t get in the spirit of Christmas, you feel like a desolate place and everyone around you is putting on bows and smiling. Yes, you’ve made it through one round of the holidays but that doesn’t mean this will be easy. In some ways, the second year of grief can be more difficult as the permanence of the loss begins to really sink in.


For others, this is your first Christmas and you don’t know what to do. You’ve made it through Thanksgiving and that’s huge, but Christmas and New Years are equally if not more sentimental times of family tradition and gathering. These are some of the toughest times for grieving people to navigate for many reasons.  Expectations may be imposed on you that you cannot meet, you may not want to participate in various occasions for fear of falling apart, or you may just dread walking into a room alone feeling like people don’t know what to say to you.

For those of you concerned about handling the holidays, we’ve compiled some expert advice for you that really will help you plan for and work through the holidays in a healthy, balanced and prepared way.

Admit that the holidays are hard

The beginning point is acknowledging—perhaps for the first time in your grief—that you can’t do everything, and be everything that everybody expects.

Make your plans; check them twice

Sit back and look at the events you’ve been invited to and consider which ones would be the most special to you. Some things can remain the same, but not everything.

Think through your past traditions and determine where the most difficult times or days will be. Circle any significant anniversaries or special days on your calendar so that they don’t sneak up on you and so that you don’t miss them. Knowing these significant times in advance and preparing for them as they come will help you more fully be present in your grief and in the special meaning of that day.

Consider the cost of withdrawal

You might feel like avoiding people, but be careful to avoid crossing over into the place of isolation. It’s important to keep your socializing limited to what you can handle, but be careful about avoiding others all together; the cost of withdrawal is high—in damaged relationships and in lack of support. Instead of planning to avoid people, be proactive and explain what you need. Be intentional in returning their gift of friendship by participating in things they want to do as well.

Create something new

New rituals, ceremonies, observances, or routines help us mark this new chapter of life.

Consider gathering your special people around to

  • sing a song and light a candle in memory of your loved one
  • read a favorite story of theirs
  • watch a brief slide show of your favorite pictures
  • if they enjoyed cooking, bake cookies or another recipe from your loved one and share the treats with others who will enjoy them.

There are many creative and meaningful ways to honor your loved one that can become new traditions within your family. Creating a time and space for connection and remembrance will help everyone mourning the loss, not just you.

Spiritual & Physical well-being

Holidays are spiritual in their foundation so worship, reading, and prayer or meditation might help you restore balance during this season.

Nutrition—make it high in healthy content, low in calories; avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, processed sugar and animal fat.

Exercise—try mall walking, activity leagues, sports, or health clubs, but check with your health provider first to see if they can make more tailored suggestions.

Rest—it’s best to discover why you’re not sleeping, but also remember your body knows what it needs. If you’re eating right and exercising appropriately, you might just find the sleep takes care of itself.

 Reach out for assistance

Support groups or friendship communities formed around a shared loss are incredibly helpful, encouraging and safe places to share about your life and loss experience. Having a group like this to fall back on, will help you face the holidays without feeling alone.

Click here for a list of local support groups.

You are not alone this holiday season. Even though there will be moments of loneliness, there are people who will be thinking of you, wanting to help and not being sure how. You will get to a place where you are ok, but it won’t be today, and that’s the way it should be.

From us to you, we wish you a blessed and meaningful Christmas.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Michael Thomas says:

    I like the idea of “creating a new normal”. Easier said than done, but I’ve found when grief coaching close friends, this response yields the best results. Only you can feel what you feel, only you feel the abnormality of your grief, only you can create your new normal. Its worked for me and a select few. And I like to think its multi-platform. It doesnt have to just be for grief. What do you think?

  2. Anne says:

    I felt like you were speaking to me in the first paragraph. It’s true. Sometimes one can be so steeled to get through the “firsts” of everything, we let our guard down and the “seconds” stealthily approach and suddenly hit us face first and we are not handling it well.
    I have looked at my holiday season and know where the pain will creep in. Yet, it all needs to be experienced to continue to grow. I made sure my daughter was available to be my “date” for the parties I didn’t want to miss. I know I will hate Christmas morning when I wake up, but I will get through it.
    By the “thirds” I imagine I will know what to expect. Some women I know “run away” on the major holidays to cruises etc. I don’t plan to do that. I do plan to get better inside and spend my time loving those who still are around me the way they deserve and need to be loved from me. After all, I am still here.

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