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Grief and the Holidays

Dr. Pamela A. Malone, LCSW-S, Fellow in Thanatology

Clinical Director, The Austin Center for Grief & Loss

The holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years are the biggest and most challenging of all. Holidays tend to magnify the feelings associated with grief and loss. The sadness deepens and the loneliness can feel very isolating. We recommend that rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, that you lean into them. It is not the grief itself that you want to avoid, but the pain caused by grief. That pain just does not go away, and no one can take it away. But grief is not just pain, grief is also love. Grief is the way out of pain, your exit door. Grief represents your internal feelings, and mourning or bereavement is your external expressions. You cry, you feel sad, you lose energy…you grieve. Holidays are some of the roughest terrains you will navigate after a loss. Ways of finding meaning in the loss you experience is so very individual. Embrace your ways, your methods, your coping strategies. This is a road toward adaptation to loss. It can be helpful to find ways of incorporating your loved one into the holidays. What is vitally important is that you remain present for the grief and loss in whatever form the holidays do or do not take. Keep in mind that holidays are part of the grieving journey that you must fully feel. There is no shortcut. As you go through the season, you may feel unusually sad, but may sometimes catch yourself doing okay, and maybe even have a brief moment of laughter or joy. Look for those moments as you oscillate between grief and restoration. Holiday tips:

  • Be gentle with yourself and take care of yourself

  • The holidays can throw you off your routines; try to stay on top of your sleep, nutrition, and exercise

  • Do not overwhelm yourself with social obligations; be okay with saying “no”

  • Do not do more than you want, and do not do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss

  • Set healthy expectations and boundaries

  • Allow time for the feelings

  • Do not keep feelings bottled up

  • If you have 500 tears to cry, do not stop at 250

  • Surround yourself with people who love and support you

  • Allow others to help

  • We all need help at certain times in our lives

  • Do not ask if you can help or should help a friend in grief, just find ways to help

  • Invite them to group events or just out for coffee

  • Pay extra attention to children and adolescents

  • Children and adolescents are too often the forgotten grievers

  • Include children and adolescents in holiday planning

The most important thing to remember is there is no absolute right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season. You may honor old traditions and memories or start new traditions. For more information on ways in which The Austin Center for Grief & Loss can offer you and your family support, please visit austingrief.org or all 512-467-7878 to schedule an intake appointment.

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