Navigating Grief During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a very difficult time for anyone experiencing grief and loss. This may be the first family gathering without a loved one present. It may also be years since the loss of a loved one as the pain connected to grief continues to ebb and flow. The holidays can also be a difficult time as loss is not always the death of a loved one. Loss can mean separate holiday celebrations due to divorce or estrangement. Loss can be anticipatory grief as a family or friend’s health continues to decline with Alzheimer’s or other diseases. Loss can mean the loss of a job and the anxieties surrounding buying presents or providing for family during this season.  

David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on grief and loss, suggests ways that we can manage the difficult moments that may arise during this holiday season:  

  • Create a new way to celebrate the holiday:

    • There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays when you are going through a time of grief and loss. You are allowed to decide what you want to include in the holiday and what you do not want to include in the holiday. If there have been financial constraints due to job loss, perhaps the holiday will also look different in terms of spending. This may be a time to create new traditions outside of gift-giving.  
  • Have a plan and a backup plan. 

    • If getting together with family or friends seems too overwhelming, then allow yourself to celebrate in a different way. We can remember the ones we love by eating their favorite meal, looking through old photos, or by lighting a candle for them. As David Kessler says, “grief is our internal feelings and mourning is our external expressions.” Finding ways to externalize this love that we still hold for the ones we no longer have in our lives, either through death or other losses, allows us to fully grieve.  
  • Cancel the holiday.

    • This may seem shocking to some as holidays are ingrained in our society and some may judge the lack of engagement in them, but there is nothing wrong with taking a year off from the holiday season. On the other hand, if the routine of the holiday season allows for some normalcy, then leaning into the traditions and everyday patterns may also be a comfort during this time. Overall, be gentle with yourself and listen to what feels right to you during this season.  

For further information, please see some helpful resources below:  


About Sarah Chun

Sarah is a Resident in Counseling providing counseling services through our Alexandria location. She completed her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Certificate in Addictions Studies from Immaculata University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Music: Vocal Performance from American University in Washington, D.C. Sarah is also a National Certified Counselor and a member of the American Counseling Association. To learn more about Sarah, click HERE

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.