Workforce Wellness – Bon Secours


Grieving During the Holidays: Coping Strategies Can Help

For someone who’s grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be especially hard. The time we take as Americans to surround ourselves with family and friends to celebrate being grateful is a painful reminder that not everyone we love is able to sit with us at the holiday table.

In fact, if someone close to you has died, you may feel like skipping the holidays and all the extra work and stress that comes with them. Giving yourself permission to opt out of activities or scale back on celebrating can help make the holidays a little less painful.

“If you’re grieving, don’t feel obligated to celebrate the way you used to or the way someone else wants you to,” said M. Regina Asaro, a psychiatric nurse who volunteers at the Bon Secours Bereavement Center in Newport News. “Recognize what you truly want for the holidays and honor it. Everyone is different and has their own needs.”

If you feel like coming together with others to honor a loved one, that’s a personal choice, Asaro said. If it’s too painful to talk about the person who’s gone or you want to spend time alone, that’s OK, too.

While it’s nearly impossible to escape the holidays altogether, Asaro offers the following survival strategies to help make this time less stressful.

Simplify holiday meals.

Although you may have always hosted the big holiday dinners, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t host this year instead. If you still want to have a holiday meal at your house, ask others to help prepare the food or organize a potluck. Feel free to adjust the menu, change the time, use disposable plates, or order takeout. Many local supermarkets offer holiday dinners and platters you can serve at home. Don’t feel like eating at home? Make a reservation at a restaurant instead.

Be mindful of your energy for decorating.

Grieving can drain your level of energy. If you decide to decorate, try to do it during the time of day when you have the most energy. Consider putting out fewer decorations or only the ones that are most important to you. Remember, it takes energy to put decorations away, too.

Socialize the way you see fit.

You may not have a lot of energy to attend every holiday party or dinner invitation. If you can, plan time to be with people who love and support you. Make sure you let your friends and family know that you may change your mind at the last minute. They will understand.

Cut back on holiday cards.

Go ahead and skip holiday cards if you don’t feel like dealing with them. Another option is to make the process easier on yourself by ordering cards with your name already printed on them. You can also ask someone else to help address and stamp the envelopes. Go through your holiday list and send fewer cards this year.

Remember others in need.

You might find great comfort in helping other people in need over the holidays. Food banks and soup kitchens welcome new volunteers every year.

Don’t ignore how you’re feeling.

Sometimes, it helps to talk about your loved one and your grief. Sharing memories about them may make you cry but it may also bring up past experiences that make you laugh.

Make a family visit to the cemetery or plant a rose bush or tree in your loved one’s honor.

Make yourself and your needs a priority.

The amount of energy consumed by grieving can leave little left for holiday activities. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t accomplish all the things you want to do. It also helps to change your expectations about what the holidays should be like. Try to schedule in down time for yourself. You can also seek comfort by observing the rituals of your faith. Or, attend a support group for people who are grieving. If being home becomes too much, travel somewhere new to give yourself a break from holiday memories.

“The fact is, when someone you love has died, the holidays can be really tough,” Asaro said. “Take care of yourself and your family. Resist the pressure to try to make these holidays like past ones. Be patient and gentle with yourself. If all else fails, remember that January is not too far away.”

For more information or to find a health care provider near you, call 804-359-WELL or visit


Source: Let’s Re-Think This Holiday Thing: Dealing with Grief Around the Holidays, by M. Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT, FCN

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