Grieving during the holidays: how to care for your loved ones

Putting ornaments on the tree, baking cookies, or something as simple as a holiday melody can be difficult for many who have lost someone that made it special. The holidays can bring a wave of sadness, loneliness, and other emotions.

“Our favorite song was always ‘Silent Night,” so when they sing it at church it just makes me cry.”

It’s OK for grief to feel heavier when we have so many memories tied to the things we hear, eat, smell, and see. 

The grief of loss can sometimes be so overwhelming that a person may not want to celebrate or acknowledge the holidays at all. Recognizing the grief and learning about ways to help can help your loved one begin to heal.

Acknowledging grief can be a step to healing

Sadness is a normal part of the healing process and can come at any time, even during holidays. There are some cases when grief can last too long and it deserves professional help, like seeing a therapist. See the signs of “complicated grief” here.

The good news is that there are ways friends and family can help.

First, it’s important to know and understand what your loved one may be going through. Here are five ways that grief professionals and physicians recommend that the bereaved help themselves heal:

  1. Surround yourself with the people that you love
  2. Talk about the grief specifically around the holiday traditions
  3. Bring back memories by sharing stories and looking at photo albums
  4. Don’t be isolated; balance your alone time with social events or activities
  5. Recognize the different emotions that you are experiencing, even if they are joy and laughter or sadness and anger

If you are close to the bereaved, you can encourage these actions in your loved one, by just being there and not ignoring the hurt. 

Here are some other ways that professionals recommend for you to help the grieving during difficult times.

Create new traditions

While it may bring the grieving some comfort to honor some traditions, there may be other rituals that are too painful to continue. But you can create new memories that honor the deceased, like 

  • lighting a candle on their behalf, 
  • setting up a place in the house for their photo and some of their favorite things, 
  • putting a new special ornament on the Christmas tree, or
  • reading their favorite poems aloud. 

Help with chores or traditional tasks

Create an opportunity to support your loved one by offering to help, whether they are 

  • baking for a potluck, 
  • decorating the tree
  • cleaning for guests
  • writing holiday cards
  • or anything else that may bring back memories or feel overwhelming

Invite your loved one to social events

It may feel awkward to attend events, especially if they are alone. Make this step easier by inviting them to parties, potlucks, or religious services. You can also invite them over to your house for the holidays or a special meal. 

Slow down and just listen

The holidays can be busy and exhausting for everyone. Its important to slow down, and take the time to sit and listen to your loved one.

Talking about it helps the healing process, whether or not the person wants to or is “in the mood.” The more you show up, the more it will help them to know that they are loved and cared for.