The holiday season is a time of celebration and joy for most families. But when tragedy and loss have occurred, the holidays can be a painful spotlight of the loss and emptiness that the family is experiencing. The prospect of facing the holidays without the loved one can be an intense source of stress and anxiety.

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. Click here to learn more about Loss at the Holidays during a pandemic.

While no single set of words can normalize the feelings or fill the gap caused by the loss, there are several strategies that can be used to minimize the pain and its effects.

Six Ideas to Help Lessen the Burden During the Holidays

  1. Communicate your wishes clearly. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you are willing and able to accept. Don’t assume that people know what you are going through or will know what you believe you can endure.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 or religious organizations to find groups that meet near you.
  4. Have an exit strategy. Parties and family gatherings may seem to be a safe setting, only to find that something triggers some strong feelings of abandonment or grief. Plan ahead of time a way that you can graciously leave without drawing attention to yourself or causing others to disrupt their celebration.
  5. Carry out a ritual that your loved one performed. 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.
  6. Dedicate a gift in memorial. You can give a gift to your family or friends in the name of your loved one, or you can give a gift to a charity or organization in their honor. Either way is a concrete way that you can keep memories alive and meaningful.


Six Ways to Help a Friend Handle the Difficult Holiday Season

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Invite the loved one to attend a religious service with you and your family. Your presence will remind them of how much you care, as well as emphasize your love for the departed. Many people, even non-religious individuals, find strength and comfort from spiritual services during times of loss.
  4. Invite the person to your home for the holiday. Your hospitality can keep the person from being alone during those important days and hours.
  5. Help the person prepare and mail holiday cards. Your presence during this emotional task will take away the loneliness that could set in.
  6. Invite the person to volunteer with you during the holiday season. Doing something for someone else – helping serve food to the needy, working with children, collecting clothes and toys – helps put life in perspective. Selfless giving often promotes healing.

Never tell the person that they should be “over it.” Instead, provide the person with the love, encouragement, strength and hope that in time the holidays will again be a season of celebration.