Coping with Loss During the Holidays


The empty chair. The unhung stocking. The favorite story that won’t be told.

“The death of a loved one leaves holes in our lives and in our holidays,” says James Ellis, bereavement care coordinator at St. Elizabeth Hospice.

The holidays may bring a renewed and profound sense of loss to families dealing with the death of a loved one, says Ellis.

Here are some coping strategies that may help:

Celebrate your loved one. Don’t deny your loss. Celebrate your loved one. Propose a toast in his or her honor, write them a letter, hang a special ornament on the tree in their memory and share stories with your loved ones.

Try something new. Some holiday traditions may be too fraught this year. If the thought of hosting Thanksgiving dinner is too much, consider an alternative. Plan a special night out, take a trip or celebrate with a potluck at someone else’s home.

Plan ahead. Ask yourself, “what do I need?” While the thought of a big gathering may feel overwhelming, chances are you don’t want to be alone either. Talk to your family and friends. Let them know what you need.

Serve others. Sometimes the best way to help ourselves is to help others who are also struggling. Consider volunteering. You might serve a meal at a homeless shelter or, if you’re musical, playing for residents at a retirement community.

Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t worry about “ruining” any one’s holidays with your tears and don’t try to be brave for the sake of your family members. Remember, they’re grieving too. Grief is normal and natural. There is no timetable for grief. We all mourn in our own way and at our own pace. Be gentle and patient with yourself and others.

Finally, lower your expectations. “No one is functioning at their full capacity after the death of someone they love,” says Ellis. “Set your expectations to a level of someone who has been inundated with grief.  Allow yourself to not do as much around the holidays as you normally would.”


loss during holidays