Facing the Holidays Amid Grief, Sorrow, and the Pain of Loss

Person with long hair sits in window seat looking outside with sad expression. Christmas decorations and candles are nearby.During this “season of giving,” how do we deal with the grief, sorrow, and pain of loss? The demands of the holiday season can often result in increased stress levels for people who aren’t dealing with some kind of loss in their lives, whether it be the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or the death of a loved one. For those dealing with loss, the usual stress may be compounded.

The social construction of the holiday season tells us we are supposed to be happy, enjoying the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, going to parties, and spending joyous time with friends and family. There is a lot of pressure even in a “normal” year to conform to social constructions of what the holidays should look like. But how can the holidays look and feel the same when one’s life may look totally different than in years past? There is also the question of how holiday traditions should be honored, especially if those traditions shine light on the ever-so-present source of sorrow and pain.

It may seem unfathomable to carry on with the holidays. You may want to hide until the cheers of the new year cease. This is understandable. The most important piece of advice for getting though it may be this: define how you want to experience the holidays in the wake of your loss and amid the sorrow. Give yourself permission to say no. Give yourself permission to do things differently. With all the social pressure to be happy or merry, give yourself permission to be sad. Grief, loss, and sorrow need to be experienced to be processed in order to heal. People experience grief and loss in different ways and on their own time frames. There is no “right” way to process loss.

When considering whether to attend holiday parties, social engagements, or even a traditional holiday dinner, keep in mind that it is okay to say no. Really, it is. People may be disappointed, but they will understand.

Though traditions may be too difficult to practice or celebrate, it is important to consider whether the void created by not celebrating any given tradition will be more painful than celebrating a cherished tradition. Some traditions can serve to honor a missed loved one and be a source of comfort. New traditions may serve to define a new start. Creating new traditions can be just as important and comforting as practicing old and cherished ones.

When considering whether to attend holiday parties, social engagements, or even a traditional holiday dinner, keep in mind that it is okay to say no. Really, it is. People may be disappointed, but they will understand. Regardless of the context of your loss, giving yourself permission to say no to social engagements may alleviate stress that could be exacerbated by attending out of a sense of obligation. Then again, isolation tends to fuel sadness, so if going to a social event here and there gives you a break from sadness, you may want to consider going. As you process your grief, it is important to put yourself and your healing first.

Embracing your loved ones, whether it be friends, family, or friends you consider family, can be a source of great comfort. Let those who love you comfort you during this difficult time of loss or sorrow. If you are grieving the death of a loved one, you might want to consider celebrating the loved one you lost. Remember them. Cry because you miss them. Laugh through tears at funny and cherished memories. It can all help heal your heart.

Don’t feel like you have to function “normally” when you haven’t even defined what the new normal is on a typical day, much less during the holidays. However you decide to define your holiday season while dealing with loss, kick comparison and expectations to the curb and take care of your heart.

This article is dedicated to a very special angel. “Banana” misses you, sweet girl!

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deanna Daniels, LMFT, therapist in Huntington Beach, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Reeny

    December 23rd, 2016 at 8:19 AM

    I will be honest in that it took me almost a year to feel comfortable going out without my husband after he passed away last year.
    It has been an experience thaT i HOPE TO never have to endure again, and I had a very good support system to help me get through it. But the thought of having half a dozen people always asking me how I was doing and how I was feeling made me just want to stay home.
    I think that it makes it easier when you just acknowledge the loss and then move on to talking about something else because I don’t want to spend the whole time out talking about my loss and grief.

  • Deanna

    Deanna

    December 23rd, 2016 at 5:51 PM

    Reeny – I’m so sorry about your loss. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I definitely agree with you that it’s better for people to just ask. However, I also know that people often don’t know what to say for fear of causing further pain. May peace and comfort be with you this holiday season.

  • Teri

    December 24th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    I’m still trying to get thru this month . My husband passed away last month ,and I can’t make it thru a day without breaking down . How do you cope?

  • Lori

    December 23rd, 2016 at 12:54 PM

    For many of us this time of year is associated with special memories of special people so the thought of going through them alone can be kind of scary.

  • rorie

    December 24th, 2016 at 6:09 AM

    You have to give yourself permission to grieve and to get over your loss, and at your pace, not that of anyone else.

    So what if they think that you should be over it by now. The reality is that no matter what they think you will never get over that loss and what points you do has to be done on your own terms and at your own pace.

    Never let another person dictate what you should or shouldn’t be feeling.

  • Tim O.

    December 24th, 2016 at 4:01 PM

    It doesn’t make it any easier or harder for me this time of the year. The pain is ever present in December as well as in JUly

  • Hayes

    December 26th, 2016 at 10:38 AM

    It is important to understand that the way one person processes their grief will not be like another person does theirs.
    We are all different and face things in a different manner.
    And that is not really the thing that matters. What matters is that you find a safe and comfortable way to face those feelings and deal with them in a way that is healthy for you.

  • jenn

    December 26th, 2016 at 2:10 PM

    I have been made to feel by others that you should swallow your grief and at least make a show of it

  • Timothy

    December 27th, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    For me every year that passes without my mom becomes a little less bitter and more just sweet.

    I can remember all of the good times that we lived through together without getting so mired down in the painful reality of her loss. That has made things much easier for me, to be able to focus more on the things about her that made me smile instead of only the sad times at the end of her life.

  • Carolyn

    December 27th, 2016 at 1:58 PM

    I said no to every single invitation that I got this year, every single one, because I just can’t face people yet after being left alone. I grieve every day still and even though people tell me that It will get easier I haven’t felt that yet. I am starting to wonder if that will ever happen for me again. It is embarrassing to go out after someone has left you and I know that he didn’t’ die like in other instances that have been talked about here but it is still a loss for me and I am not sure that I am going to ever feel normal again without him.

  • Carol r.

    January 2nd, 2017 at 6:17 AM

    Is it because she have focus too much on the issue and not go out and enjoy herself.

  • abel

    December 28th, 2016 at 7:38 AM

    Your new life may change, it can be productive and fulfilling but maybe in a different way than before, but all that will eventually come with a little bit of peace

  • Willie

    December 29th, 2016 at 3:26 PM

    This was the first Christmas in a long time where I have felt more like my old self. There is still some sadness, but that will always be there I suspect for me. But this year it did not feel as debilitating to me.

  • kyler

    December 30th, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    It’s not only the pressure that you feel from others but most of us place this huge pressure on ourselves as well.

  • Beck

    December 31st, 2016 at 8:05 AM

    Well this is a little different but I lost my job in June of this year and I have not been able to get back on my feet quite yet. Christmas and the birthdays have been the hardest for me because I have not been able to buy things for the people I love just because every penny that I have has to be accounted for until I can get another job.

    I am starting to lose faith a little because I feel like I have tried everything short of standing on the road trying to land a new gig, but no bites. I am very much hoping that 2017 will bring some much better news for me because at this point I am starting to worry as what little I have left runs out that I might have to sell my house and then I don’ know what I would do.

  • cynthia

    January 2nd, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    You can’t go by what the social constructs say that you should or should not be. You should trust you own gut, feel what you are feeling and deal with that. You just can’t worry so much about the other stuff.

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