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Grieving During the Holidays…Relax, Re-Orient, Rely, Remember

by Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC


Holidays are an emotional and often stressful time for most of us, which are further intensified for the bereaved.  As the time approaches, memories wash over us. dread, anxiety, worry can fill the mind and heart.  Sometimes we may feel isolated, because in a time when others are “merry” we don’t feel merry at all, and it feels like no one understands, while some may want things to be like they always were.  It can feel like the progress we made with our grief just got worse again.  How can the bereaved enjoy the holidays, while also grieving?  The four R’s can serve as a guide.


Tips for Grieving During the Holidays


  • During the holiday its ok to take a break from your grief, to try to move it aside a little, and try to enjoy the holiday. We don’t forget our loved one by doing so, and it is a healthy way to cope.
  • Go a slower pace(amidst the chaos of the holiday), respect your own limits.
  • As you put the pieces of your life together again, give yourself permission to adapt your holiday celebration.



  • Acknowledge that the loss affects this holiday, this gathering, this time of the year and that things will never be the same again.
  • What feels most right to you? Share with your family, loved ones, your own circle.
  • Acknowledge the year of lasts, i.e. last year we did this, had this event, we have always done this… and that this may not ever be the same again.
  • Simplifying, keep things simple for themselves, especially for the first holiday, it has the most “unknown” feelings.



  • Who is your support network? How does that look during holidays?  Is it different than normal?  Are there other ways you can get support at this time?
  • It can be tempting for the bereaved to want to isolate and it can be helpful to find 1 – 2 people you can share your feelings with, particularly around the holiday.
  • When you open yourself up and allow yourself to be a little more vulnerable, it allows others to be a support to you and others would welcome that.



  • One family, goes bowling on the anniversary of the death as a way to remember the deceased(the deceased loved bowling)
  • Set an empty chair/place at the table
  • Sharing meals- certain types of foods the deceased enjoyed
  • Walks, bike, hike to special places


This holiday season, there may be fatigue at times, there will be surges of grief, there will be music, smells or rituals that will flood us with memories, and there may be joy at times, even while grieving.  It’s ok to not be ok and it’s ok to be ok, even for just a while during the holiday, even while mourning.


May love and joy be yours, to the extent it can, as you celebrate the holiday and remember the loved one you hold in your heart.


Source:  National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization(NHPCO) Bereavement Professionals Chat, Grief Support and the Holidays, Kara Thoma, LCSW, ACHP-SW, Joelle Osterhaus, LCSW, ACHP-SW, October 2021.

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