Christmas: A Minefield for Grievers?

For grievers, the holidays can be full of grief landmines: Empty chairs, missing hugs and absent faces that can trigger a flash-point of heartache.

How do you get through it?  People have different approaches. Some opt to be too busy to think about their loss. Others try to make Christmas just like it was before and ignore the loss. Some "tough it out", dismissing help with, “I’m fine" and an academy award performance.  These might work for a moment but often the pain and tears splash out anyway, at the worst time and closes off the healing support that others offer.  Others discover ways to deal with loss, though still painful, it helps healing and recovery.  These ideas can guide you as you find the best way to navigate the holidays. 

Working with a Christmas that is different now 

Even though you never wanted it, there is a new normal.  Its okay to experiment to see what traditions still work and what needs to change.  If the loss is closest to you, take may need to take the lead in planning and discussing it these changes with your family because they may be afraid to, in case they might upset you to mention it.  You are the best one to diffuse the “White Elephant” in the room awkwardness about the topic of loss.  

1.      Sort out how you want to handle old traditions while honoring their contribution.  One family announced, “Dad always carved the turkey, but he would be proud that John is taking that role now.”   A new widow said, “I always served pecan pie, Tom’s favorite, but this year I am serving cheesecake because I can not bear to serve it without him here.  In contrast, another widow might feel happiest serving that pecan pie to remember Tom and remember him.   The first year after the loss of their husband and father, one family decided to escape traditions and went away for a sun holiday but the second year, they wanted to spend it at home again.  You have the right to decide what feels best for you and to change it as you try different things.

2.      Many people light a candle for their loved one at the table or put out a photo or flowers and speak some words of appreciation about them or read a poem.  One daughter asked all the family to write out a short favorite memory about Grandpa, put them in a decorated jar, and readthem together at dinner.  She gave it to her widowed mother who still cherishes it years later.  

3.      Decide about Christmas cards and how you will sign them.  One widower said, “We used to send dozens of cards, but I did not have the heart for that.   I sent to a handful of people that I wanted to thank for their help too and signed my name and hers adding “who is in heaven now.”  I e-mailed a holiday greeting to everyone else.  That was all I could handle." 

4.      Change difficult traditions.  If your wife is gone and she cooked Christmas dinner, then try taking the family out for the meal or inviting other family members to take it on.    

Simplify the holiday.

Grief is stressful and energy draining.  Activities that were fun and joyful may also trigger pain and longing..   

1.      Reduce and simplify your activity level but avoid isolating which can intensify loneliness.

2.      You can RSVP to an engagement in a non-committal way explaining that “some days are better then others and I’m sorry, but I can not predict it”.

3.      Simplify your holiday shopping. Cut back on your list, shop at early or late hours.  Consider buying gifts cards.  

4.      Simplify your decorating.  It will save energy by not putting it out and on the other end by not having to pack it up.

Take care of yourself. 

A body in grief needs more attention and physical care. Allow your energy to be directed to recovery.

1.      Find time to rest, especially after activities.  You might need to process your feelings afterwards by calling a close friend, journaling them or connecting with your creator.  Consider finding a support group because telling your story over and over is very helpful for the griever but listening friends can develop compassion fatigue.  Also consider accessing a professional like me to help you through.  

2.      Ensure healthy eating and drinking at Christmas when the sugar and alcohol flow.  Grief is stressful and drains the immune system, especially if you were in a care-giving role too.

3.      Take people up on their offers to help, whether for a meal or computer help or snow shoveling.  Friends are often at a loss as how to do and appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance.

Wishing you renewed strength and comfort as you walk through the mine field of Christmas and peace and hope in the new year,

Big hugs and love, 


If you are facing loss, find out the best ways to renew your resilience in a complimentary coaching session with me.  Contact me through my resouces page or e-mail me at

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