Let’s Rethink This Holiday Thing….

Dealing With Grief Around the Holidays

M. Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT

During the holiday season, TV commercials often show families gathered around a dining room table groaning with the weight of bowls and platters piled high with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Someone is standing at the head of the table, carving knife in hand, taking requests for light or dark meat. Norman Rockwell at his best!

In truth, holidays have always been a mixed blessing. They are fun but they are also exhausting. If you’re grieving, however, holidays can be more than just a matter of “too much to do and too little time.” Rather than fun, holidays may feel like a real burden. They’re graphic reminders that someone you love is missing–that, unlike the people in those ads, this is not a happy time for you.

You may, in fact, wish the whole holiday thing would just go away. Given that the holidays are here to stay, it’s more than OK to give yourself permission to scale back on some of your usual activities if you aren’t up to them.

Here are some holiday survival strategies:


  • Ask family members to help prepare food or just do potluck.
  • Change the menu–don’t think you have to serve a dish just because you always made it on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.
  • Eat at a different time than you used to.
  • Set the table three days ahead of time and put a clean sheet over it to keep dust off.
  • Get some nice disposable holiday plates–less cleanup.
  • Have dinner for family members only and ask friends and neighbors in for dessert.
  • Let a different family member host the holiday dinner.
  • Order holiday dinners and platters from your local supermarket.
  • Don’t cook at all–make a reservation at a local restaurant or get take out.


  • If you decide to decorate, do it during the time of day when you have the most energy.
  • Only put out your most treasured decorations or the ones that mean the most to your children.
  • You don’t have to get everything done. You can say, That’s enough.
  • Remember it also takes energy to put things away after the holidays.

Social Events

  • Plan time to be with people who love and support you.
  • Balance the time you spend with other people with your energy level.
  • Choose which invitations you will accept. Let your hostess know you might change your mind at the last minute–friends understand.
  • Holiday Cards
  • Order cards with your name(s) already printed on them..
  • Have your children or other family members address and stamp the envelopes.
  • Cut your card list way back.
  • If you really want to stay in touch, send a Xeroxed post-holiday letter in February.
  • Skip them altogether this year.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family

  • Remember that grieving takes much more energy than you think it will. Don’t feel badly if you only get a few things done.
  • Change your expectations about what the holidays should be like.
  • Take time for yourself. Do whatever helps you to relax–listen to music, go for a walk or take a hot bath.
  • Shop by catalog or on-line; go food and gift shopping at off-peak hours.
  • Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings: what helped you through this time and what was difficult.
  • Start some new family traditions; do something different every year.
  • Make a schedule for holidays; build in down and alone time. Don’t be a slave to the schedule. Sharpen your pencil so you can cross things off if you run out of steam.
  • Attend a support group with other bereaved families.
  • Seek comfort by observing the rituals of your faith.
  • Go someplace that doesn’t hold a lot of memories for you.

Remember your Loved One

  • Talk about your loved one and your grief. Don’t ignore how you’re feeling.
  • Share memories of your loved one–tears and laughter are part of the same package.
  • Create a special ornament or decoration.
  • Make a family visit to the cemetery.
  • Plant a rose bush or a tree.

Think of Others in Need

  • Help out at a soup kitchen or a food bank.
  • Sort apparel at a clothing drive for needy families.
  • Assist a nonprofit organization to mail out fundraising letters.

The fact is that, when someone you love has died, the holidays can be really tough. Take care of yourself and your family. Resist the pressure to try to make these holidays like past ones. Be patient and gentle with yourself. If all else fails, remember that January is not too far away.

M. Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT is a Consultant on Trauma and Loss living in Newport News, VA. She may be contacted at: rasaro68@pinn.net.

© Copyright 2005, M. Regina Asaro, MS, RN, CT.

The above may be copied in part or in its entirety with acknowledgment of the author and its source.