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Two Daughters




Navigating Grief During the Holidays

by Shannon Bell

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and right after that, the holiday season will kick into full gear. Since this will be the first holiday season we spend without our mother, and we know that this season can be particularly challenging for anyone that has faced loss, we wanted to know what experts recommend, and what others have found helpful as they cope with grief during the holidays.

 One strategy we plan on implementing this holiday season is the Three Cs – Choose, Communicate, and Compromise – recommended by the Hospice Foundation of America, and developed by Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv.


Whether its Friendsgiving, holiday parties, or New Year celebrations, you may feel overwhelmed by obligation. Though you may feel a lot of pressure to be there for all of these gatherings, be kind to yourself. These events can bring a lot of stress and trigger grief, and you should never feel guilty for prioritizing your mental health. Choose what events you feel most comfortable attending. It might be helpful to have a close friend that is also planning on attending the event that you can talk to about how you’re feeling. That way, if you wake up the day of the event feeling particularly down or low on energy, you have someone you’re comfortable talking to, and they can let the host know if you decide you can no longer attend.


Talking with the people around you, whether they have been impacted by the same loss or not, can be helpful to ensure that others understand how you are feeling. You may also better understand how others grieving the same loss may differ in how they choose to process and cope during the holidays. In either case, communication is key to making sure that all of us spending time together during the holidays respect and understand each other’s boundaries.


Since everyone processes grief in a different way, it is important to be willing to compromise during this time of year. Some of us feel comforted by certain reminders of their loved ones. Others may find them upsetting and would rather avoid them. Communicating with your family or friends, figuring out where you differ in what you want or need, and agreeing on a compromise will help everyone feel more respected and more connected to one another.


What Has Helped Others

I reached out to friends and followers on Instagram and asked what has helped them cope with grief during the holiday season. Several individuals contributed their ideas, which I compiled below. I am very grateful to them for sharing their stories and what has helped or comforted them through their experience navigating grief. Hopefully their ideas provide some inspiration for what might help you and/or your family navigate grief, whether it’s during the holidays or any other time of year.

Take Time for Yourself

“Be ready to accept the tough feelings that you know you’ll encounter. Early on in my grieving I pushed feelings away to stay cheerful and strong for the rest of my family, but through therapy I realized the importance of holding space for those feelings and taking the time to feel them. Recognize that those feelings will inevitably arise during the holidays and make sure to set aside private time for journaling and sitting with those feelings in the midst of the holiday bustling."
"Take care of yourself. Grieving during the holidays can be emotionally exhausting, and it is important to give yourself grief. Get lots of sleep, go on a walk to get some fresh air, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you can’t do all of the hundred things you planned to accomplish over the holidays. It’s okay to stay home and cry instead of going to get drinks for the third night in a row.”

Revisit Happy Memories

“Take the time to revisit happy memories. I like to pull out cards that my dad wrote me and look at old photos. Being home for the holidays brings up memories of him, and I like to be intentional about embracing those reminders. As I have become more comfortable talking about him, I like to share the happy memories that I come across with my mother and brother.”

Bring Together and Stay Connected to Family and Friends

“Nothing really fills the void, but after my brother passed away, my mom used to host a Christmas party and invite all of his best friends. It was an evening of good food and just being around the people he loved the most.”
“I always call my aunt (my dad’s sister) during the holidays. Staying connected to your loved ones who are also feeling the same loss is a mutually beneficial experience.”

Cook or Bake Their Signature Recipes or Favorite Holiday Meal

“I turn to cooking the recipes my grandmother passed down that we cooked together during the holidays.”
“Remaking recipes from loved ones, to remember them and also have a little bit of them around for the holiday season.”
“I love to make my mom’s apple pie, which she always made for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. She taught me how to make it and we always made it together this time of year. Every time I bake it and smell the pastry and cinnamon-y apples, it takes me right back to those special times with her.”
“Although my dad isn’t here to share it anymore, it feels really special to have his favorite holiday indulgence on the table anyway.”

Engage in an Activity You Used to do with Your Loved One

“My dad taught me to love running at an early age, and I think of him often when I run these days. When I am home, I run one of the routes we used to go on together. It has helped me unlock a lot of my feelings and I feel like it has enabled a lot of healing for me.”

Keep Their Heritage Alive

“We like to still celebrate Boxing Day, which is a British holiday the day after Christmas. It’s nothing more than sitting around, eating, and watching TV, but it feels good to keep the English heritage alive. We also always buy Christmas crackers, which are little poppers that you pull on and they have paper crowns and small prizes. Wearing the paper crown is a silly, lighthearted way to remember my dad that won’t have too much weight to upset those in my family who are still very sensitive to too many reminders.”
“This year will be the first year I’ll be making Dutch bitterballen and oliebollen alone, without my mom, but I am looking forward to it. It feels good to be able to keep making these traditional foods that she loved, that she taught me, and that represented our Dutch heritage. I am also looking forward to the day that I have kids and can celebrate Sinterklaas with them and tell them all about what Dutch treats their grandmother stuffed into our wooden shoes as kids.”