Human Interest

ASK JANICE Special: Grief And The Holidays

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Tips for the Grieving and Those Who Love Them

Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, the end of the calendar year marks a whirlwind time of holiday dinners, parties and events.  Suddenly, our lives revolve around rich food, holiday decorations, shopping and gifts.  The pressures of frantic shopping, non-stop cooking and having to wear happy faces and obnoxious holiday sweaters can be overwhelming when life is good.  It can be especially difficult when you’re grieving.

Let me re-phrase that.  It can be brutal when you’re grieving.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and are facing your first (or second, or third) holiday season without them, the recent onset of holiday music and the proliferation of Christmas decorations can be devastating.  And that’s okay.  It’s normal.  Trust me.  I know how hard it is to make it through all the expressions of joy and good cheer when your heart is broken into a million little pieces.

You’re not alone.

And, I also know how hard it is to love someone who’s grieving during the holidays, too.   You may feel guilty about being happy when your loved one is so sad.  You never know if you should leave them alone to grieve, or if you should encourage them to get out and have some fun.  Should you call and check on them?  Or will that make them sad if you happen to call when they’re feeling relatively happy?  It’s hard to know the right thing to do, isn’t it?

You’re not alone, either.

Whether you’re grieving this holiday season or know someone who is, I got you!  With some help, I’ve put together some tips for both the grieving soul and the folks who love a grieving soul to help you all navigate this holiday season.


  1. ACKNOWLEDGE that this holiday season will be different and harder than in the past. Own your truth, don’t try to deny it.  And most importantly, ALLOW yourself to feel what you feel: joy, anger, sadness, glee … whatever, just FEEL it!
  2. BE HONEST and tell people how you feel about participating (or not) in certain events this year. Be clear with your friends and family about both what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.  Give them plenty of notice if you’re not going to follow your usual holiday routine and understand that even if they’re not happy about it, they’ll get over it.
  3. Set REALISTIC expectations about what you will do, cook, decorate, etc. Don’t over-commit yourself when you’re feeling particularly good or high energy.  Remember that grief is often a wave of emotions.  You may feel up to it today, but not tomorrow.
  4. Keep the TRADITIONS you want to keep, and let go of the rest. And don’t feel guilty about it!  You don’t have to carry on certain traditions because your late loved ones liked them.  It’s your choice, so only do what you’re comfortable doing.
  5. Avoid ISOLATING YOURSELF! You may be tempted to avoid all the hoopla and stay in bed from Veterans Day until after New Years, but don’t.  Completely isolating yourself won’t help your grief, won’t bring your loved one back, nor is it healthy.
  6. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, SKIP sending HOLIDAY CARDS, DECORATING, or even certain EVENTS if you want, and don’t feel guilty about it!
  7. Select a few SPECIAL ITEMS that belonged to your late loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.
  8. Make a DONATION to a charity in your late loved one’s name.
  9. Make a MEMORIAL ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honor of your loved one.
  10. JOURNAL when you’re having a particularly bad day.
  11. GET HELP. Seek professional help, if necessary. Don’t try to “white knuckle” it on your own.  There are licensed professionals available to help you.  Say yes to help!
  12. Practice SELF CARE. Put yourself first. Drink plenty of water and get lots of sleep.  Pay attention to your eating habits … even with all the rich food, make sure you’re getting enough fruits and veggies.  Hydrate, exfoliate, meditate, and relax whenever you can!
  13. Have an ESCAPE PLAN. If you do attend the office parties, the family dinners, etc., drive yourself so that you can leave whenever you want. Or take an Uber.  Or call a cab.  Just be able to leave when it all becomes too much!
  14. Create NEW TRADITIONS. Now is a great time to establish new traditions, designed the way you want. Do it, and don’t feel guilty!
  15. Remember that it’s OKAY TO BE HAPPY! Enjoying yourself doesn’t mean you love or miss your loved one any less. In fact, what better way to honor their memory than to have fun?  So go ahead and allow yourself to experience joy this season.  It’s what they’d want you to do!

(Sources: What’s Your Grief dot com; Vitas Healthcare; Huff Post)

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Janice Fuller-Roberts is a freelance writer from Detroit. Her work has appeared in such online publications as For Harriet, ePower Magazine, DAME Magazine, Salon, Madame Noire, SuzyKnew! and The Sexy Single Mommy.

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