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Handling Grief During the Holidays

A couple of Christmases ago, I experienced unexpected emotions related to grief. I was not aware of the load of tears I was carrying until I went to visit my precious grand-niece, who is my sister’s name sake.  My sister had passed away in April of 2009, after a swift tumultuous bout with ovarian cancer.  My grand-niece was born two years later, almost to the date of my sister’s passing.   In the middle of my visit with this beautiful little bundle of joy, I noticed emotions welling up related to my loss.  As I left my sister’s home and her adult children, her husband and her grandchild, I realized the lack of her presence in that moment in time. Being aware of this emotional response and the depth of the loss I was able to freely express this “strange” reaction in the presence of those also well acquainted with this loss of their mother, wife and grandmother. The love was overwhelmingly healing for me and was exactly what I needed.

Loss Leaves a Deep Hole

One of the earmarks in the healing journey of grief is the awareness of a deep hole left in our life after we have experienced a loss. This loss could be when a loved one leaves by death, divorce, or something changes our lives traumatically such as a natural disaster or dealing with a family member who becomes physically or mentally ill.

We experience a sense of abandonment that rattles us to the core.  We long for wholeness and security that we are missing. How should we handle grief during the holidays?

Memories Trigger Emotional Responses

During the upcoming holiday season, if we have experienced a significant loss, we will likely experience memories and events that will trigger responses that seem “strange” in any other context.  The holiday season carries with it a sense of change and new beginnings, as well as memories of places and times past.

If you have experienced a divorce, then family routines and important traditions have been uprooted and disturbed, with a challenge of being in uncomfortable painful situations. Feelings of anger, confusion, sadness and anxiety may come to the surface, leaving you wondering how to handle family interactions and what to say, and feeling exhausted from the efforts.

If the loss was a death of a loved one, then memories flood back at times, causing wrenching pain remembering how different it would be if that person was still present in your life.  Even if the loss is not new, these feelings are always under the surface and can visit you afresh, in unexpected ways.  You may think you are “over it” but it will hit you again! That is because grief is an unending, yet changing, journey.  Grief is a fluid process that integrates into our lives, with the pain lessening in depth and frequency as time goes on.

Grieving in Healthy Ways Leads to Healing

Strangely enough, grief is an important process, leading us toward healing and a more balanced, healthy life.  This ancient, yet familiar journey occurs in everyone’s lives.  We cannot avoid it.  We can trust, however, that our brain were created with the capacity to grieve.  By allowing this important natural process to occur as it comes to the surface, we will experience relief, peace and a settling of our souls. It is a purging process that helps us make sense of our lives in the present. This purging process can actually help to heal us during this memory-infused holiday season.

There are many strategies that can help us to grieve.

  • Talking to other family members and friends about our feelings
  • Finding meaningful spiritual rituals such as time for worship and prayer
  • Staying busy doing things that we enjoy
  • Finding new ways to celebrate the holidays and/or keep up heartwarming traditions
  • Slowing down to take the time to journal/reflect
  • Experiencing the emotions/thoughts that come to mind, rather than pushing them down deep inside
  • Finding a creative outlet such as creative journaling, gardening, decorating, etc., that is uniquely motivating to you.  (See the CREATIVE GRIEF handout for ideas)

Take the Time to Heal

The busyness of the upcoming season can keep us from taking the time to “listen” to emotions inside that need to be heard to process grief in healthy ways.  This only causes pain and repressed grief to come up more loudly at a later time, and has the power to affect our lives in adverse ways.  Remember to slow down your pace this holiday season and give yourself the gift of processing grief…resting in this process to get you through the journey.


Author: Susan S. Miller, PhD, LPCS, NCC for Miller Counseling Services, PC

Dr. Susan Miller

Susan Miller, PhD, LPCS, NCC is a Psychotherapist, Certified Creativity Coach, Certified Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coach, Entrepreneur & Life Coach offers counseling, coaching & creativity workshops that light the path of your life journey through Lighted Path® Coaching and Miller Counseling Services, PC Along with having 30+ years of counseling, coaching, and group facilitation experience, Susan is a life-time trained artist with a special interest in painting, mixed media and fabric art.

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