Grief During the Holiday Season: How Do You Cope?

 by Connie DeKrey, LBSW, CT

Ordinarily, we think of the holidays as a busy, joyous time. But when one is grieving the death of someone beloved, there is nothing “ordinary” about it.

Holidays are typically filled with memories and reflection, so it is not surprising that the longing we may feel for that absent loved one intensifies against the backdrop of festive bustle. There may be reminders that cause an ache in one’s spirit, such as a card addressed to the deceased, a gift that would have suited him perfectly or her favorite Christmas song playing on the radio.

Because this year’s holidays may be “out of the ordinary” for you due to a loss, it is important to recognize the benefit of understanding grief and implementing some strategies that can assist in coping with that grief.

  • Re-evaluate traditions: While it would seem unthinkable to depart from certain holiday rituals, this may be a year when it makes sense to pick and choose, especially given the fact that grief can consume a great deal of one’s stamina. Perhaps you choose to forgo writing an annual family newsletter, but would not want to miss the local university’s choral concert. Perhaps you may even opt to do something completely different from previous practices. It is perfectly permissible to be selective with your time and energy.
  • Formulate a plan: Having a plan will give you a sense of control during this challenging time. Sharing ideas with those close to you can be helpful, but remember that no plan has to be etched in stone; you need to afford yourself the flexibility to bow out, should unpredictable grief reactions dictate this.
  • Ask for help: As previously mentioned, grief can sap you of energy and enthusiasm. The holidays are an ideal time to enlist the offers of assistance that have come from caring people, in order to manage tasks such as shopping, envelope addressing, baking and the like.
  • Attend to self-care:Being mindful of a healthy routine of nutrition, rest and exercise is particularly important at this time, as it helps a grieving individual to feel better-equipped for handling the emotions and stresses of the season.
  • Allow for expression: Grief specialist and author Judy Tatelbaum reminds us, “The surest road through grief is to feel it and not deny it.” Nothing changes for the better when one suppresses grief. Acknowledge that the deceased continues to be loved and missed. Find a special way to embrace cherished memories.

When grieving the death of a loved one during the holidays, the sense of loss can at times be overwhelming. It can take courage to simply put one foot in front of the other. But taking a few intentional steps can help an individual begin to regain a sense of order and peace. These steps can set the course of one’s journey toward healing.

Hospice of the Red River Valley offers free grief support to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one, regardless if they had hospice services. Contact us today at (800) 237-4629 to learn more about how we can help with your grief journey.

Connie DeKrey, LBSW, CT, is a grief specialist at Hospice of the Red River Valley. She joined the organization in 1993, working in patient care as a medical social worker for 10 years and now as a grief specialist in the grief support department. She particularly enjoys the opportunity to provide education to individuals and groups about living, dying and grief.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or


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