When my wife, Linda, died earlier in the year, her loss left my family and me feeling confused about how to celebrate because she was the driving energy behind our holiday gatherings.

– Neal

After a long and happy marriage, my husband, whom I’d known since high school, died in October. My grieving was intensified as I anticipated my first December without him.

– Paula


The fact is that grief doesn’t take a holiday in December. While many of us are festive, those who grieve a loss often find their pain heightened during this time.

However, as many bereaved individuals can testify, it is possible to celebrate while grieving. Here are 10 tips for managing loss this month.


1. Avoid placing excessive expectations on yourself. Your energies are down as you grieve, so it may not be possible to do everything and be everywhere. Pace yourself carefully. Give yourself permission to reduce the festivities and decline some invitations.


2. Consider all the options for celebrating. Some grieving families maintain their tradition. Others find it helpful to change things up.

Have a conversation with family members about how to best gather for the holiday. If family members live a distance away, have the “conversation” via a group email.


3. Balance family time with alone time. Because grieving is physically and emotionally draining, try to balance your time with family with some time alone. Rest when you need to. Retiring to a quiet place, even for a few minutes, can be renewing.


4. Take care of your physical self. This means getting proper rest; eating nutritious meals, always a challenge during the holidays; and avoiding too much sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Work in time to exercise several days a week.


5. Forgive yourself. The holidays can dredge up regrets and guilt feelings about things said or not said, things done or not done. Do all you can to let it go and forgive yourself.


6. Give yourself a break from grieving. Set aside time to read a good book, watch some movies, attend a holiday concert, get a massage, or take a yoga class or two.

Of course you need to deal with your grief, but you don’t have to focus every minute on it. Give yourself some breaks from grieving.


7. Speak your loved one’s name. Some families try to ignore the fact of loss and grief by not talking about the deceased loved one. This is not productive.

A better approach is to speak about the person. Use his or her name. Some families report that it was helpful to take a few minutes before a meal to have members share favorite memories about the deceased.


8. Allow grief to move through you in a natural way. If you’re sad, be sad. If you find reasons to be happy (even briefly), be happy. If you need to shed tears, then cry. Don’t resist what is happening. Go with the ebb and flow of grief.


9. Remember that some relatives can be great resources. Because the holidays and family gatherings come together, remember that some of your extended family can be helpful.

Not every relative can handle a grieving person, while others can. Gravitate toward the ones who understand, are supportive, and are comforting to you. Without being rude, gently distance yourself from those who just don’t get grief.


10. Buy a gift you would have given your loved one. Then, give it to a charity or someone who would truly appreciate the gift.

For example, one man had planned to buy his wife a new laptop computer. After her death in the fall, he still made the purchase and gave the laptop to a student at a community college.


Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., is a grief counselor, bereavement educator, and author of several books, including Healing Grief.

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