The holidays can be a super difficult time for folks who are grieving. Emotions tend to be amplified during the holiday anyway, and grief in particular can be exacerbated because of memories and feelings of loss or aloneness that might come up. Grief during this season can certainly be in regard to bereavement (grieving the death of a loved one), or it also might be following a divorce or breakup, shifting family dynamics, illness, being in relationships that are unhealthy or not how you want them to be, or feeling really alone.

We often want to be able to predict and “get over” our difficult emotions. But I think grief is a really important part of the experience of loving and loss or wanting something to be so different than how it is. Many times, there is a before and an after with grief- things never go back to being the same as they were before. However, as we feel our emotions and are in relationship with the grief, we can learn to integrate the loss into a life that has meaning, value, and love. We can emerge from the grief transformed.

One of the things that makes grief extra difficult is our culture’s lack of ritual and time and understanding of the grief process. Western culture is demanding and wants us back at work by Monday. We are expected to just get over it and many times, to navigate it on our own as we live in a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps culture.” The reality of grief and our culture’s reality are often at opposite ends of the spectrum and have opposing needs. Grief needs slowness, care, time, and space.

Community and support (including groups or individual therapy) are a huge resource in the grief process and can help us to feel less alone. Feeling alone in grief often adds additional stress, pain, and even trauma. During the holidays, especially, we might be with others who are sharing the same loss (ie. the death of a parent). Despite the shared experience, it is likely that you and your sibling are going to experience the grief differently and even need different things. While one sibling might want to talk about it, the other might find it too painful. I think the most important thing we must do is identify what we are feeling and needing (when possible) and try to communicate that to those around us. It might be as simple as, “I need some down time,” or, “I want to have an intimate celebration of life with our family at the park over the holiday to remember our person.”

We also must have a lot of compassion and grace for ourselves and others as we navigate these big feelings. It might be helpful for you to create traditions or plan activities that you will do to remember your person or to care for yourself in your grief. You might want to do these alone or with others. Journaling, spending time grieving, spending time in nature, creating, or talking about your grief can all be helpful.

Grief has many physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual manifestations. I will link a handout you can refer to below for a more detailed list, but it is important to know that grief is a full body experience and can cause a great deal of stress on our bodies. Taking care of ourselves during the grief process might feel very hard, but it is important to listen to what our bodies are needing. Doing things that complete the stress response cycle each day can be a helpful practice for releasing stress during grief. The handout linked below can offer many ideas for doing this.

When you are supporting others in their grief, it is important to be empathic, compassionate, and flexible. The grieving person might be irritable or might withdraw and want to isolate. They might want to talk incessantly about their loss or not want to talk about it at all. As a compassionate friend/partner/parent, our job is to just hold space when we feel we can and be non-judgmental about how the other person is handling their grief. Of course, if we feel someone needs extra support (like from a mental health professional), we can suggest that. Often, what people who are grieving need most is compassion and kindness. They also need us to be in it for the long haul as grief is a marathon and not a sprint. There is nothing we can say to make it better or fix the other person’s grief, and that is not our job. It can be helpful to do tangible things for the grieving person (like running errands, picking up kids, making meals, etc.). It is important to respect the grieving person’s boundaries. They may need more leniency around changing plans last minute, deciding not to attend a family event, or even wanting to talk about their grief and then changing their mind.

Grief is a normal human response, but it is really a difficult thing to navigate. Should you need support around your grief this holiday season, grief support groups or therapy can be a super valuable resource.

I’m sending you care in your grief.


Grief handout: Includes manifestations of grief, self-care in grief, and how to support others who are grieving (it also includes what NOT to say)

Brené Brown Empathy Short