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Grief and Grieving

Coping with Holidays and Special Times when Someone Close to You has Died

​​​​​​"The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart."

~ Helen Keller

Each day of our lives we have simple rituals like reading the paper while having a coffee, feeding the dog, or watching a favourite TV show. These simple rituals give our lives structure, familiarity, and comfort. Special rituals like birthdays and holidays also give us direction and comfort. We come to rely on personal holiday traditions and look forward to them every year.

When someone dies, special times of the year and holiday rituals may be deeply affected. The loss may change the things you do during these occasions. If you’ve experienced a recent death of a family member or friend, holidays and special occasions can be reminders of your loss. While going through these occasions the first time, you may feel that things are different or uncertain. As time goes on you’ll learn new coping skills that will give you safety and comfort.

How can I try to make holidays or special occasion easier?

Accept that Special Occasions may be Hard and Different

Recognize that the person’s absence may be painful for you no matter what you do. This is normal. Try to balance this with your love for the people in your life and your positive memories of the person you’ve lost. It's better to plan ahead than to wait and see how things go. Try these ideas to plan ahead:

  • decide what you can or want to handle and let family and friends know
  • think about how you'll answer hard questions like "How you are doing?" before you're asked
  • decide what traditions will stay the same and what will change
  • think about spending the holiday in a different place
  • take time to look after yourself and make time to grieve
  • give yourself permission to cut back on holiday decorations, preparations, and gift giving

Have Realistic Expectations

  • Remember, your motivation and energy levels are lower than normal. Balance being sociable with spending time alone.
  • Accept that each person’s grief is unique. Family members and friends might want to honour the person that died differently than you do. Plan and do what works for you and your family.
  • Let yourself feel sad and cry—it’s also okay to laugh.

Other Ideas

  • Spend time with people you enjoy. If celebrations are too hard or overwhelming and you aren’t feeling up to them, leave an event early, cancel, or send last minute regrets.
  • Ask for and accept help from others. Make a list of things you would like help with.
  • Make a shopping list ahead of time and shop when you're having a good day.
  • Go to a candlelight memorial service.
  • Buy a special decoration in memory of the person to put out during religious or spiritual celebrations.
  • Collect special memories about the person from family and friends. Write them down and keep them in a special place.​
  • ​Go to a spiritual or religious service at a different place or time.
  • Put a decoration at the grave site or decorate a memorial tree.
  • Think about having dinner at a different place or time.
  • Light a special candle for the table centerpiece in memory of the person or offer a toast to their memory and invite others to share.
  • Donate money or a gift in memory of the person​.​

Current as of: June 29, 2015

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services