COVID-19 Loss, Grief & Gatherings During the Holiday Season

As the holiday times are upon us we generally look forward to spending time with family and friends. For those of us that have lost a loved one recently or think about distant loved ones, the holidays can be additionally challenging. In general, grieving, remembering and celebrating a loss may entail gathering with others in a home, at a cemetery or any public location. In light of Covid-19, this year the holiday season will look and feel different because of the many restrictions on gathering and limitations on traveling, among other reasons.

As such, many individuals will grieve the loss of a loved one, while others may experience a feeling of loss in other ways, including a loss of holiday traditions, a loss from not being with loved ones, and the subsequent grief that accompanies this sadness and loneliness.

In general the holiday season is an emotional time where friends and family join together with loved ones to reminisce and celebrate. This year due to the pandemic, social distancing and gathering restrictions, many are unable to experience the same joy of honoring traditions and commemorating loved ones. This may lead to isolation, loneliness or the prospect of facing the holidays without a loved one resulting in stress, anxiety, sadness and even depression.

While no single act can normalize the feelings or fill the gap caused by the loss of a loved one or the loss of not being together during the holidays, here are several strategies that can be used to minimize the pain and its effects, and support those who may be experiencing it.

Suggestions for Self Care During the Holidays

  1. Communicate your wishes clearly. Do not be afraid to let people know what type of support you need and what you are willing and able to accept. Do not assume that people know what you are going through or will know what you believe you can endure.
  2. Schedule a virtual gathering. If you can not be together, schedule a virtual call or even eat a meal together so you can see one another and receive support face-to-face. You can order special gourmet holiday meals to send to yourself and loved ones.
  3. Make a new tradition. Many of the painful memories and feelings of loneliness are tied to events and traditions from the past. Relieve some of the pressure from those traditions by beginning new activities.
  4. Find a confidant. The holidays are sure to stir deep emotions. Even though you may have been successful in keeping the feelings inside to this point, find someone with whom you can confide. You may also find strength in support groups. Many form specifically during the holidays to deal with the difficult times. Check with hospitals, religious organizations, or our Grief Center Directory to find groups that meet online or near you.
  5. Take a walk, exercise or just get fresh air. Despite weather or restrictions, if you can take a walk or exercise outside, this will help. If you have to stay inside, try finding an online exercise class (there are many free ones) as exercise releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that trigger a positive feeling in the body. Also, if you can go outside to take a few deep breaths of fresh air, this will help clear your mind too.
  6. Carry out a ritual that your loved one performed. Make your loved one’s favorite dish for your holiday meal. If they enjoyed sending holiday greeting cards, send the cards out remembering the joy that it brought your loved one. If volunteering for service organizations was done each year, make sure that you continue the legacy. These activities will give you meaning and purpose, and will keep the memories of the joy and dedication of your loved one alive.
  7. Light a memorial candle. Light a memorial candle in memory of your loved one. You may want to include photos of this person and any mementos that remind you of them.

Ways to Help a Friend Handle the Difficult Holiday Season

  1. Send a meal or treat. When something special is delivered, it certainly lets someone know you are thinking about them. Studies show that receiving a gift brings much joy to the recipient. Sending a thoughtful, helpful and delicious holiday meal so a loved one does not have to prepare one, will help fill their sense of loss and loneliness. Click here to see our special holiday meals that can be delivered. If you don’t want to send a whole meal, a special sympathy or treat basket can help brighten their mood.
  2. Offer to help decorate for the season. The simple decorations that are used during the holidays will be packed with emotions and memories. Don’t let the person handle those items alone. Your presence will also be very practical. Decorating the house is usually a two-person job.
  3. Be supportive of how the person chooses to approach the holidays. Everyone handles holiday grief differently – there is no correct way to deal with the myriad of emotions and settings. While some may disapprove of choices, you voice your support for your friend. No one should dictate the activities that require your friend’s participation.
  4. Invite the person to your home for the holiday. If gathering laws permit and everyone follows appropriate social distancing, your hospitality can keep the person from being alone during those important days and hours.
  5. Call the person and schedule a virtual gathering. If you cannot be together, schedule a virtual call or virtual meal so you can see one another and offer support face-to-face. You can send a meal to yourself and your loved one to experience together.

For additional information on grieving during the holidays please view “Grieving Loss at the Holidays

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