Expert Health Articles

Holiday Grief

Niki Sidle

Bereavement Coordinator

“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you; I’ll be so blue just thinking about you. Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree; Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me.”

Even the famed “millennial” generation can identify the sound of Elvis, but few can appreciate the soulful melody of his 1957 hit Blue Christmas until they are facing a blue Christmas of their own. After the death of a loved one, many people struggle to find the excitement and pleasure of decorating, shopping and preparing for the holiday season; this is particularly true when it is the first holiday following their death.

So what is one to do after the death of a loved one and the joy of the holiday appears lost?

Pace yourself: Grief is mentally and physically exhausting, so give yourself time to rest. Re-examine your priorities and decide what is necessary this year. Does the thought of baking cookies sound dreadful? Let it go for this year and buy dessert. If wrapping gifts was always the job of your loved one, try using gift bags.

Allow yourself to express your feelings: Honor your feelings and allow them to be seen and felt; suppressing the difficulties of the season will make the loss feel greater. Meet with a family member or friend and speak about how you are feeling about the holidays. Or, try journaling your thoughts and emotions and see where the script leads you.

Do not be afraid to reminisce: The absence of your loved one will cause pain no matter what you do. Conversing with family and friends about the good times and sharing memories is one of the best ways to keep your loved ones presence in your life as you learn to live without their physical companionship.

Accept that this holiday is different and do not try to recreate the past: “Returning to normal” is the goal for many after the loss of a loved one, but the reality of the situation is that “normal” is no longer possible. The first few holidays without a loved one can be especially difficult, so this is the time to be open to new traditions. Reflect on how traditions have changed through your life, hold on to the traditions that feel right, but allow change to happen. Order Chinese takeout or go to a movie on Christmas Eve!

Recognize your loved one in celebrations: Creating an outward symbol of their presence can ease, not erase, the pain of the holiday season without your loved one. Light a candle, hang their stocking on the mantle, offer a toast with their favorite wine or leave their chair empty at the dinner table; these are all ways to honor your loved one throughout the holidays.

Most importantly, do not feel guilty about experiencing joy. If fun happens, embrace it! Even while grieving, it’s okay to open your heart to pleasure and enjoy the laughter of children, the smell of a fresh-cut pine or the taste of a soft sugar cookie. By paying attention to your physical, emotional and spiritual needs, you will get through this holiday season. And may find yourself smiling at the memory of your loved on.