The holidays can be a somber time for many as it reminds us of those who have died. It’s usually the small things that hit the hardest. A song that plays on the radio. Cravings for that special holiday dish. Certain smells. Empty chairs. We can be surrounded by vibrant lights and beautifully wrapped gifts or we can be in a room filled with people. But we will always feel a sense of emptiness and stillness in the void left behind.

The holidays are filled with a ton of parties and activities, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. We may feel obligated to attend certain events or feel responsible for getting everyone a gift on our list. When in grief, though, we barely have the energy and motivation to carry on with our daily routines, let alone additional tasks. It is important to honor your limits and take the time to acknowledge that you are grieving.

Here are some ways to cope with grief during the holidays:

  1. Communicate instead of keeping silent. Talk to family and friends about your grief. Share memories and regrets. Also, communicate with others if you plan to do things differently this holiday season, or even if you plan on not doing certain things at all.
  2. Be intentional and selective with the events you attend. Practice saying no and sending your regrets. Plan to leave events early or take regular breaks. Be apologetic but assertive.
  3. Be cautious of isolating yourself from others. Sometimes we need time to be alone to recharge, but we are also vulnerable to getting caught up in our feelings. It may be more beneficial for us to be with others, whether they distract us or commiserate with us.
  4. Simplify tasks such as decorating and baking. Start with only one project and don’t take on another until you are finished. Instead of an elaborate light display, perhaps consider simply switching out your porch lights with red and green bulbs.
  5. Limit gift buying or eliminate gift giving altogether. Let others know that you won’t be giving gifts this year and that you won’t be expecting any yourself. Replace cards with emails, text, or phone calls. Avoid busy stores and shop during less popular times such as early morning.
  6. Gifts and decorations can also be an enjoyable way to keep yourself busy. If it feels right, incorporate the memory of the departed in gifts and decorations. Decorate a tree with custom made ornaments with their picture or any design that would remind you of them. Have the recipe of their special holiday dish inscribed on a plate or baking dish that can be given out to their family and friends. Keep a stocking for them in the fireplace.
  7. Establish rituals to honor your departed loved ones to do each year. It can be visiting and decorating their grave site, playing their favorite holiday music, or writing a letter to them. Again, it does not need to take a lot of time or energy to complete.

This year let us not forget that there will be many families and friend groups who will be remembering loved ones who were lost to COVID-19, gun violence, and other tragedies that have occurred in 2021. Let us be forgiving of those who choose to distant themselves, either because of the pandemic or because of personal reasons. And most importantly, even though we may be grieving, let us not forget to celebrate and be grateful for the living.

Jazzmin Villanueva, Psy.D.