how to cope with grief during the holidays | relationship advice by dr kathy
The holidays aren't joyful for everyone. In fact, for many, the holidays remind us of what we're missing... or more specifically, who we're missing.

My mother passed away suddenly 7 years ago, just before the holidays, and I remember the exquisite pain of that first Christmas. It was so overwhelming that my sister and I only had the energy to decorate a branch. Yes, that's right, we had a Christmas branch. Ironically, it was the perfect symbol for how we felt: the tree was gone and only a branch remained.

Fortunately, a lot of healing and love flowed into our lives since then and if you're in a similar spot this holiday - suffering the loss of a loved one and missing them dearly - here are a few ways to cope...

1. Recognize that you will not always feel this way.
You're hurting very much now, but you will not always be hurting. You're in a transitional spot, where you are moving from one phase of life to the next. Try to tell yourself that you're grieving and that the pain is evidence of how much you loved, and maybe still love, the person who has gone. Life 1.0 is over and life 2.0 is loading... you might not have wanted this, you might not have had a choice. But life 2.0 is coming and it will be as good as you make it. Push yourself to find the good, even when you don't feel like it.

2. Focus on other people as much as you can.
When we don't feel good, we tend to really dive into our heads and obsess about every thought and emotion. It's important to do this some of the time,  you do need to work through your feelings, but you've got to get out of your head. Get out of your house and go help other people. It can be anything you like; helping a neighbor go grocery shopping, volunteering at the local YMCA, fundraising for a charity you love, anything. The important thing is to take your focus off of you and how you feel and fill your head with the gratitude and friendship of others.

3. "Talk" to the person you miss.
One thing that I did when I was really missing my mom was to sit down and write to her. I started an online journal where I'd write to her every night and tell her how I was feeling, what was going on, and how much I missed her.  I imagined her reading my words and smiling; sometimes I'd imagine her writing back. There was something so powerful about getting those thoughts out and on the screen where I could see them. It was if they were out of my head and saved on the laptop, so I didn't have to keep going over them again and again. I'd encourage you to try the same; write or journal in any way that seems right to you.

4. Reach out to people you've lost touch with and strengthen those connections.
When we lose someone important, life feels very unstable. It's as if we're standing on a platform supported by many pillars; when we lose one of our main pillars, we need to redistribute the weight onto the others. To do this, reach out to the people in your life you're close to; spend more time with them. Ask if you can join in a holiday gathering with them. If you're feeling like your circle of friends and relatives is a little too small, invite friends, perhaps even a new acquaintance, to join in your celebrations. Others are grieving this holiday too, and they'll appreciate being included. You'll appreciate being surrounded by more happy faces.

5. Start some new traditions.
If you've done the same thing for the holidays every year for years, you will crave doing that again. But with the loss of someone you love, you can't exactly do the same thing anymore. So don't try. Start something new. You might return to the usual tradition next year, but for this holiday, infuse something different. Go out for dinner if you usually have a big meal at home. Join a friend's family for pie later in the day. Play cards and wine with your in-laws. Go to the movies in your pajamas (apparently it's ok to do this now!). Consider this your year to experiment and next year, you can decide what you want to continue and what you want to replace. By telling yourself that it's an experimental year, you'll be less upset that things are different and you'll be able to cope a bit better.


6. Remind yourself that there's still a lot of good in your life.
When we're sad and hurt, we tend to only see the negatives in our lives. We see what's wrong, what's missing, who's not there. Focusing on this only makes us feel worse. So instead, really challenge yourself to look for what is still good, what you are blessed to have, who is still with you, and the love you continue to have. Consciously make yourself thinking about what you're grateful for at least three times a day. It can be something big (I'm so grateful for this home I have) or small (I really do love this coffee mug); just consciously baste your brain in gratitude and see if you don't start to feel a little better.


In all honesty, the first holiday season after you've lost someone is going to be rough... and that's ok. We don't have to love it, we just have to get through it. By following one (or all) of these steps, you will find your way through. You might even find yourself feeling a little bit better than you expected yourself to! No matter what, know that things will get better as time goes on, you will heal and recover, the world still has a lot of love left for you.

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