Christmas Grief
Grief and the Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas Grief
The first thanksgiving and Christmas after John died, I chose avoidance as my main strategy for coping with grief and the holidays. For Thanksgiving a friend and I flew back to Thailand. My husband and I had been living and working in Thailand before his sudden death to a drunk driver in July of that year. I had not had time to pack up the house and say a real farewell to my friends there. I chose that time partly because of my school schedule, but mostly because I wasn’t ready to deal with family events.

For Christmas I went to visit my brother and other family members in Alberta, Canada, where I grew up. Again because this was not a regular Christmas tradition for me, it felt safer—I wouldn’t have to come face to face with the fact that my husband was missing from his and my other family gatherings.

The difficulty of grief and the holidays is the absence—the absence of a beloved family member leaves a gaping hole in all the festivities. So as I think back over the past few years, here are some suggestions to help deal with Christmas grief.

  • know your limits—especially in the first year through the holidays, be realistic about how you can care for yourself. It is okay to admit that you may not have the emotional capacity to do all you would have done other years. It is okay to do something completely different if it feels right to you.
  • buy yourself a gift from your loved one—of the Christmas gifts I received, John always bought me the one that was the most meaningful to me. He was someone who cared about quality. If I had been shopping for myself, I might have chosen a lesser quality item. So each year, I think of something I would love to have and John would have loved to buy me. I try to choose for myself what John might have chosen for me. It helps me remember his love.
  • buy a gift for your loved one and give it to someone who would like it—read Amy’s Grief and the Holidays interview. In honor of her son, she bought gifts that he would’ve liked for other children. You could also donate in your loved one’s honor: books to a library, building supplies to Habitat for Humanity, playground equipment to your church, whatever feels like it would fit as a gift for your loved one.
  • think about how you will deal with your emotions ahead of time—you have no way of knowing all the possible things that can come up during the holidays to trigger sadness, but having a plan for how you will handle those emotional moments will help. Perhaps taking a daily walk and expressing your feelings such as in this Dealing with Emotions article is what will help you through. Perhaps journaling through your Christmas grief, is what you need. Maybe it is simply having a friend who will ask you how you are doing and compassionately listen.
  • find comfort in happy memories—research tells us that some of the people who are most resilient in moving through grief take time to savor the happy memories they had of their loved one. Remember a time in a past holiday season with your loved one when you felt full of joy and love. Spend some quiet moments reliving that time, perhaps review old photographs or journals. Savor the emotions you felt and the gift your loved one was to you. You can read more about this in The Management of Grief article.
  • take care of yourself physically—although we are used to thinking more about our emotional state of being during grief, remember that the state of our body contributes to the state of our emotions. Too much rich and sweet food, late nights, and an overfull schedule will only deplete you further. Give yourself the gift of rest.

Unfortunately there is no way to erase the absence of your missing loved one, no easy way to deal with you Christmas grief, however there are ways to honor your loved one and yourself. Although your loved one is not with you this season, look for ways that would uniquely honor the relationship you have had.

Need to chat with a live person? Read our Online Grief Counseling Interviews.

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