Coping with the Loss of a Loved One During the Holidays


The holidays can be a magical time for children and youth. However, some may anticipate the holiday season with dread and depression, especially if they’ve lost a loved one. The past year and a half have been especially hard. From April, 2020 to June, 2021, data shows more than 140,000 children and teens in the U.S. lost a parent, caregiver or secondary caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Often, the first holiday season after losing a loved one is the most difficult.

Since family and togetherness are key themes for the holidays, this year is going to look different for many of us. Add in the loss of a loved one and this holiday could be very difficult for people who are grieving a death(s). Losing someone you care about is one of life’s most stressful events and can cause a major emotional crisis but there are some strategies mental health experts suggest that could help you or someone you know cope with grief.

First, it’s important to understand, grief is not an orderly process and there is no right way to grieve. Every person and every family does it differently. This can cause emotions to sometimes collide and overlap, especially during the holiday season when the emphasis is on rebirth and renewal.

Express your family’s needs: Those who are grieving may find it hard to participate in all the festivities or may need to let go of traditions that could cause more hurt than joy. It’s all right to tell people you just aren’t up to it right now or to change plans at the last minute.

Start a new tradition: There is no way to replace the presence of a loved one who has passed away, but one way of coping is to honor their memory rather than mourn their absence. During a holiday dinner, place a single, lighted candle on the dinner table, leave an empty chair, or say a few words of remembrance.

Change how you celebrate the holidays: Give yourself a break from cooking an elaborate meal and order from a favorite family restaurant instead. Explain to your children how you’ll be supporting a local business (perhaps another family) and include them in the choosing process. You could even schedule a road trip to the mountains. Make it a day trip or even a getaway! Many state parks offer camping and cabin rentals, and just being out in nature and taking a break from technology and typical holiday hoopla will create a sense of calm and peace and can help tremendously in the grieving process.

Help others in need: Consider spending some time volunteering with your family at a non-profit or religious organization. Not sure where? Think about donating time and/or resources to a favorite cause in memory of the person who is no longer with you.

Give yourself and your family time: The grieving process doesn’t automatically end at the six-month or one-year mark. Depending on the strength of the bond that was broken, grief can be life-long. With time, the holidays will become easier to handle.

With support, effort and patience, you and your family will survive grief. One day the pain will lessen, leaving your family with cherished memories of your loved one.

Additional Resources:

Mental Health America

Reachout App: A peer support app for those dealing with mental health issues.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s Online Peer to Peer Anxiety and Depression Support Group