How can I deal with grief on holidays and special occasions?

Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and events that would otherwise be joyful can be especially hard on people who are grieving. If your grief is fresh, holiday cheer can seem like an affront. Celebrations may underscore how alone you feel. Likewise, it's hard to accept that others may not mark the days that you do—the first time you met, a birthday, or the anniversary of an illness or death. The following strategies may help ease your pain around holidays and other difficult times:
  • Start a new tradition or build on an old one. Remember the deceased on special occasions by placing a lighted candle on the table, leaving an empty chair, or saying a few words of remembrance. If the person who died always played a special role in festivities, formally ask another family member to carry on the tradition.
  • Change the celebration. Opt for a simpler celebration. Go out to dinner instead of planning an elaborate meal at home. Schedule a trip or an outing with family members or friends.
  • Ask for advice. Talk to others who have lost people close to them to find out how they have managed holidays.
  • Express your needs. Let others know that you may not participate in all the festivities or that you need to let go of overwhelming or unsatisfying traditions. Feel free to tell people you're just not up to it right now or to change plans at the last minute. Don't feel pressured to do more than you want to do. Cry if you need to. Leave an event when you wish to.
  • Plan to mark the day. Walk through a nature preserve. Visit the cemetery or the place where ashes were scattered. Enjoy an activity the deceased would also have loved, tell a joke she would have appreciated, or perform a service for others in his honor. Think of a ritual to help you connect. Light a candle and say a prayer. Release balloons. Carry a memento from your loved one. Meditate. Tell someone you're close to how you feel and why. Ask people to share their memories of the deceased with you.
  • Help someone else. Volunteer to help others through a charitable or religious organization. Make a donation to a favorite cause in memory of the person who died.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.