managing grief during the holidays

fall is well underway, and we’ve officially entered the holiday season. as we all know, as fun as this time of the year appears on paper, it can and is stressful. whether you’re traveling afar, hosting a crowd of people, or dealing with it alone, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s back-to-back can be overwhelming. this week on the blog, we’re going to talk self-care.  self-care can take a lot of forms, and we’ll talk a lot about it this week, but today i’m going to focus on managing grief during the holidays.

as a disclaimer, i should say upfront: i’m not a grief counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.  nothing i say here is intended to take the place of a trained professional.  it is only my goal to share certain difficult aspects of my life and strategies i use to cope.  it is my hope that posts like today not only provide you a pleasant distraction by continuing with me on my fashion journey, but also a sense of camaraderie as we enter a season that but most accounts shouldn’t be difficult, but oftentimes, is.  

resisting the urge to be alone

grief can come from a variety of different sources and places, and it can manifest itself in unforeseen ways.  you may have lost a loved one this year.  you may be estranged from a family member.  you may find yourself facing an illness.  you may be going through financial hardship.  or it may be something else quite entirely. 

funnel neck sweater | similar sweater | wedges | similar wedges | pants | shirt | bag 

as many of you know, i lost my husband of 36 years this summer.  this is the first holiday season i am going to face alone.  not alone alone—my kiddos will all be here—but alone in a sense all of those who have been married will understand.  it’s difficult; it’s painful; and it’s just plain heartbreaking.  it’s all of those things.  and based on the outpouring of support, i know many of you—my readers—are going through the same thing this year. 

first and foremost, know that i’m sorry, and i empathize.  there’s nothing i can say—nothing anyone can say—that will make things better in any meaningful sense.  but here inlies my first point:  this holiday season, it’s important not to deal with grief alone. 

you may not know how to make your grief precise—you may not know what to say at any given moment—and the same may be true for the people in your life.  i can assure you that our family and friends want to take take your grief away—at least in part—but may not know what to do.  words oftentimes fail us.  

but don’t try to tackle your grief alone.  take your friend up on their offer for a coffee.  answer that 9:48PM phone call from your sister.  fly out to visit your daughter for Thanksgiving.  sometimes the sheer act of being forced to articulate our amorphous thoughts and feelings into words is therapy in and of itself.  or, maybe this year it’s time to take the plunge and seek out a therapist. 

the point is simple:  reach out to the people that make up your life, and allow them to reach out to you.  don’t face the holidays alone.

letting go of expectations 

are you responsible for Thanksgiving dinner?  are you hosting  a family Christmas this year?  do you have a series of office parties you’re expected to attend this December?  do you have an entire house to decorate for November, December, and January?  do you have Hanukkah gifts to purchase for children and grandchildren?    

funnel neck sweater | similar sweater | wedges | similar wedges | pants | shirt | bag 

the holidays bring with them all sorts of responsibilities and expectations. some of those expectations are brought on by others, but many of them are self-imposed. 

those expectations can create an enormous amount of stress, and if you’re also grieving, that stress can exacerbate the grief and lead to guilt.  all of a sudden, you’re now trapped in a feedback loop of stress, grief, guilt, and guilt, grief, stress.  it’s not fun.  to say the least. 

you can break that cycle:  subvert expectations. what i mean is this.  to alleviate holiday stress and help manage grief, it’s OK to do things a little bit differently this year.  if you’re traditionally responsible for a homemade Thanksgiving dinner, scratch “homemade”, and order one from Whole Foods.  (i’ve done that many times, and trust me, it’s good.) 

if you’re supposed to host family for a week this Christmas, but that feels just a little bit too overwhelming, ask your daughter and son-in-law if they’re willing to.  if i’ve learned anything about you, my readers, you all have broad shoulders.  you can and do take on and handle a lot.  but i’m here to remind you—only because i have to remind myself—it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help.  especially during the holidays. 

if cutting back on the decorations is going free up a late November weekend, do it.  spend that weekend taking care of yourself.  if skipping a holiday party is going to allow you to grab a drink with an old friend and reconnect, then skip it.  what is going to help manage grief more?  personal interactions trump impersonal ones.  every single time.  this year, let go of both implicit and explicit expectations.  it will help you manage your grief in totally unforeseen ways.

the importance of family 

for those of you that follow me regularly, you know the importance i place on family.  what do we really have in this life if not family?  that being said, family isn’t always easy.  oftentimes, it’s just plain work.  but is there any better way to deal with grief than to reach out and bring your family closer? (the power of a hug is actually amazing.)

funnel neck sweater | similar sweater | wedges | similar wedges | pants | shirt | bag 

oftentimes, family can bring with it stress, anger, and resentment.  it’s hard to say that out loud.  but it’s true.  we may have a sibling who said something hurtful all those years ago that we’re still holding onto.  we may have a child who made a decision we don’t agree with, which in turn led to a fight, which in turn led to six months of radio silence.

stories like this run the full spectrum of existence, but we’re all familiar with them.  if we’re dealing with grief, the added complexity of family history, spurred on by holiday expectations, can be a recipe for frustration and sadness.  but let’s flip that script for just a minute.  

there is no time of year that better allows an excuse to reconnect and rebuild our familia relationships than the holidays.  what’s stopping us from picking up the phone and reaching out to a brother we haven’t spoken to in years?  what’s stopping us from getting on a plane and visiting a daughter who moved away last year? 

the holiday season affords us the power of forgiveness.  and it’s always worth exercising.  no matter what.  because at the end of the day, family is everything.  and even when—especially when—we’re grieving, a hug from a loved one is transformative in a way only words can barely capture. 

managing grief during the holidays

 today, we talked about managing grief during the holidays by i) not facing the holidays alone; ii) letting go of expectations; iii) reaching out and/or reconnecting with family.  it’s my hope that one, if not all of these strategies help, at least in part, you deal with any grief you may be facing this year. 

given the potential heaviness of the post, i didn’t walk through my outfit of the day in any real detail.  however, the theme today is obviously “cozy” and “comfort”.  part of self-care is taking days to just be cozy and comfortable, and you’ll find links to each item of my outfit inline above.  

in case you missed it 

first and foremost, i want to thank all of you for making last week’s travel week a resounding success.  by all major metrics, it was our biggest week on the blog.  and in fact, October was our biggest month of all time.  in case you missed my river cruise with junior style, check out our travel diary part 1, part 2, and part 3.  and if you’re looking for travel tips and tricks, check out the definitive guide to international travel

moving forward, we’re changing up your YouTube schedule slightly.  we’ll be regularly posting Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.  in case you missed it, yesterday we published a new entry into our Style Secrets series.  checkout the video below for my final fall haul from JCPenny.  

we’ve got a lot of exciting content lined up for you during the holiday season, so make sure to keep sharing these posts on your social media channels like Facebook.  and if you haven’t already,  sign up for our email newsletter on the sidebar to your right if you’re on desktop, and at the end of the page if you’re on mobile. 

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36 Comments

  1. Kim wrote:

    Beautiful. Poignant. Timely. Thank you.

    Posted 11.4.19
  2. Carol wrote:

    Lost my husband of 37 years this past March. For some reason telling myself this 1st year is going to be a quiet year for me helps me to keep in perspective adjusting to the change that comes along with my loss. I also know that the following year might not necessarily be so quiet. Thank you for your kind advice I will reach out, keep busy and accept many invitations over the holidays.

    Posted 11.4.19
  3. Shannon Johnson wrote:

    Hi Beth…really solid advice in your post today. You have a wonderful knack for delivering your thoughts in such a relatable way☺️. I too have experienced becoming a widow and it occurred to me that another thought that may be helpful to some is to think ahead to the New Year in a gentle way and take small steps to think about what the future might look like. Not about “moving on” but about what would be pleasant to look forward to so that there isn’t a difficult let down after navigating the holiday season. Big hugs to you and all your followers who may be dealing with grief❤️

    Posted 11.4.19
  4. Clio Silman wrote:

    Beth, your suggestions are spot on and many helped me when I lost my mom.

    The outpouring of support from friends was a godsend. I don’t ask for help easily and my friends know this. My friends know how much I love a decorated house for the holidays, but that first year I was struggling. One friend
    called a few weeks before Christmas and said “I’m getting my wreathes today – how many do you want”. It wasn’t a yes or no question. I said 2 and she came to hang them and we enjoyed catching up. Another friend made sure I had yummy treats on hang for unexpected guests. And a group of friends offered to come by after Christmas to helped me take it all down.

    I have used this approach for friends who have lost a loved one or are battling illness – it makes us both feel good.

    Posted 11.4.19
  5. Holly wrote:

    Love, love, love the JC Penney video Beth!!! Your a natural. My fav was the animal print blouse with the skirt and leggings. Very Chic

    Posted 11.4.19
  6. Shirley Hutchins wrote:

    Beth – I follow you for fashion guidance, but today your message rings clear. I lead a group called GriefShare. I’m sure you have heard of the organization. I would encourage anyone going through a season of grief, whether it be recent or in the past, to seek out a local GriefShare group meeting. It runs for 13 weeks and is by far one of the foremost Christian based tools available. On Thursday, November 21st, there is a special session, “Surviving the Holidays”. I would like to invite anyone in the Roswell area to sign up to attend. Below is the llink to register. Thanks again for your inspiration.

    http://fellowshiproswell.formstack.com/forms/griefshare

    Posted 11.4.19
  7. Velina Sweatt wrote:

    Thank you for addressing grief during the holidays, it will be difficult for me, as I just lost my husband 9/15 unexpectedly. Some days are better than others but nothing seams to help that whole in my heart. I just booked a flight to go to my daughters house for Thanksgiving where my other daughter and family will come too, so therefore I am surrounding myself with lot of Love.

    Posted 11.4.19
  8. Carol McKay wrote:

    Hi, Beth,
    I think your suggestions for dealing with grief were wonderful and spot-on. You have shown that everyone has different ways of dealing with grief and that the desire to isolate is one that we need to resist. I also applaud you for suggesting private counseling or a support group in times such as these.

    Many blessings and best wishes as you negotiate the holiday season without Mr. Style.

    Carol

    Posted 11.4.19
  9. Gail Bell wrote:

    Beth,
    Just a simple thank you for today’s very timely post.

    Posted 11.4.19
  10. Lillian Marie Black wrote:

    Thank you, Beth, for sharing your hard-earned experience, insights, and wisdom on this most difficult topic. My best friend of 41 years died suddenly a few months ago and I am now part of a circle of friends & family muddling our way through supporting each other, but especially focusing our love and energy on her husband and children. Your words give me guidance and I will reference them when I need reminders. Thank you. Love from California.

    Posted 11.4.19
  11. carolyn wrote:

    Thank you for this lovely heartfelt article.

    Posted 11.4.19
  12. Lillian Dmytrasz wrote:

    This was wonderful! I lost my husband of 50 years June 27, 2019 has been very difficult and lonely. My children are a blessing (family is everything)! A pleasure to read your posts, knowing there are other people going through similar and unpleasant life experiences, especially losing a loved one.
    Thank you so much.
    LD

    Posted 11.4.19
  13. Nancy wrote:

    Beautiful sentiments Beth.I have been a widow for 15 years.Time helps with the grief but the holidays and new grandchildren still make it difficult.Thank you for sharing your thoughts.Have a peaceful season

    Posted 11.4.19
  14. Julie Mycock wrote:

    Hi Beth.
    What a heart warming post, you summed up everything perfectly. Xoxo

    Posted 11.4.19
  15. Lesa wrote:

    Lots of prayers and hugs to you Beth! The holidays can truly be challenging when dealing with a loss but you certainly have a very strong support system! I know your viewers all love you and wish you the best!!

    Many happy wishes from Ohio for a blessed and safe holiday season!

    Lesa

    Posted 11.4.19
  16. Pam C wrote:

    Oh Beth, I was I could give you a hug. This will be your hardest year. I know you will still miss this lovely man in the coming years but the pain won’t be as sharp. Take good care of yourself this season.

    Posted 11.4.19
  17. Mary Grogan wrote:

    Appreciate you more all the time. You are a very wise lady, full of style and heart. My hope is that, with time, your grief will subside.

    Posted 11.4.19
  18. AOA wrote:

    Having lost my father on December 29, 2018, this post truly resonated with me. I can still remember my mother’s phone call advising me to go home. I cried knowing in my heart that it would be the last trip I made down to see my father alive. My father was buried with military honors at the beginning of this year. We all said our final goodbyes, including my mother, his wife of 41 years. Although this holiday season will be tough without him for the first time, we will also be celebrating the life he lived and the legacy he left behind. In addition, we will be celebrating our first holiday season with my newborn son, born July 28th of this year. I send love and warm wishes to all who need it. Miss Beth, I send you hugs and many thanks for having shared Mr. Style with us over these past few years. May all our loved ones continue to rest in peace.

    Posted 11.4.19
  19. Diane Sargent wrote:

    My first Holiday Season alone in 40 years.
    My husband died in March 2019.
    So many of us going through this awful first year & then Holidays on top of it.
    Just be kind to ourselves, I think.
    No shoulds or musts or need to do…
    Just be kind…..

    Posted 11.4.19
  20. Sandra wrote:

    Hi Beth – I’m a 47 year old woman from North Queensland in Australia. I live in a very humid climate and I started viewing your blog to remind me that although it’s hot, I should still put effort into being stylish. I really enjoyed your post today – my family isn’t close and we don’t “do” Christmas. Every year this hurts – although I’m getting a lot better at coping with it. This year I decided not to be alone and travel to spend xmas with a friend. Your post reminded me this was a good idea and to embrace what it will/could be rather than thinking of it as a consolation prize.

    Take care.

    Posted 11.4.19
  21. Kathy Briscoe wrote:

    Dear Beth,

    I too lost my husband suddenly of a massive heart attack on Sunday, July 21. We were married 53 years, and words cannot express how much I miss him. I’m attending a Grief Share class which is helpful. The leaders will be sharing a video about the upcoming holidays which should be helpful. Thanksgiving was Alan’s favorite holiday. He always prepared the turkey and I did the side dishes. My birthday is December 13 and he always made my birthday and Christmas special for me. I will spend the time with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter who live nearby. That will be helpful, but I fully expect this to be a sad holiday season without the love of my life..
    Sincerely,
    Kathy Briscoe

    Posted 11.4.19
  22. Christine wrote:

    Dear Beth ,
    In dealing with the grief of recent widowhood , I’ve found support through family , friends , spiritual retreats and prayer . Your words are also comforting and helpful . I know that you are experiencing the same type of loss as I am and many of your readers are also experiencing . Your sensitivity and kindness as we approach the holidays is so appreciated . Our grief and awareness of our loss will be more painful , more intense as the holidays near .
    Taking care of oneself and loving others is crucial if we are to heal . Thank you so much for helping me to cope as the holiday season approaches. I will be praying for you so you may find some peace and some comfort .

    Posted 11.4.19
  23. Leslie wrote:

    Beth, I’m a new reader. Found your blog two or three weeks ago and look forward to each post. Love your hair, your style, lovely food and drink, adorable dog, and wise approach to life. Your subject today was a surprise and also a blessing to me. I, too, lost my husband this summer. He was my best friend, a remarkably kind and loving person and even during a long and debilitating illness, he remained forever an optimist. I miss him dearly. We would have celebrated our 57th anniversary on Dec. 18th, one week before Christmas so I add that to my days of challenge this holiday season. You give good advice. I am blessed to have children and sisters who are very attentive and lots of offers and options for the holidays. I am considering what will work best for me as I adjust to my new normal. There are many others walking the same path today and my prayers are that the joy of Jesus Christ’ birth will override the sadness we feel at the loss of someone so dear to us.

    Posted 11.4.19
  24. Dora Renata palaPala wrote:

    Gentile Signora le sono affettuosamente vicino. Anche per la mia famiglia non sarà un Natale facile ma cercheremo di farcela.

    Posted 11.5.19
  25. Jeanne wrote:

    What practical advice you have given in this column—helpful to all of us regardless of what we might have experienced in the past year. Thank you for this well-written piece.

    Posted 11.5.19
  26. Sharyn wrote:

    Hi Beth Thank you for the post. Your comments about feeling alone even when your family is with you resonated with me. I lost my husband of 34 years to cancer this September and that is exactly how I feel. Thank you for the blog which brightens my day. I pray that time will lessen the pain of loss for all of us.

    Posted 11.5.19
  27. Suzanne M Smith wrote:

    A good reminder to us all not to overextend ourselves or forget our own needs throughout the year. Last year at Christmas, I had just had one of my knees replaced, I was in pain, and could barely stand or walk, with my second knee needing the same surgery, too! So it was the first year in all my 65 years that I did not put up a tree–at first I was down about it, but then I realized family was way more important than whether or not a tree was sitting up in our room, and I adjusted my attitude and had maybe the best Christmas emotionally than ever before! I so enjoyed having everyone around, and we just made it happen regardless! I felt very fortunate, and this year, I am feeling like I have a whole new life as both knees are done and I can walk and do so many things I had come to agonize over, I was in so much pain. A lot of times, I think we play the wrong records in our own heads and put too many expectations on ourselves, but if we just enjoy the moment, there is so much we can be grateful for. I guess that’s corny, but it is true!! I hope you’ll be surrounded by loved ones for the holidays, Beth, and keep Mr Style in your heart throughout. He’d want you to be happy and loved…XO

    Posted 11.5.19
  28. Susan wrote:

    Thank you for your beautiful post, Beth. Your words will help many. Be kind to yourself- you’re not alone.

    Posted 11.5.19
  29. Nancy wrote:

    I appreciate this post tremendously.
    Your discussions of the loss of your beloved husband have been very powerful.
    My younger sister passed away in November two years ago & the fallout with one of my siblings is painful.
    Basically I have been “ghosted” – no communication at all at this point.
    The important thing I am trying to focus on is that I do have another sibling and I also have my husband and two sons. Oh, and our furbabies.

    Posted 11.5.19
  30. erika wrote:

    Thank you for this post, I just happen to come across it. Its a reminder that I gotta take care of me which I’ve forgotten to do. I lost my dad 6 yrs ago, my mom 4 yrs ago and currently dealing with my husband fighting breast cancer (yes breast cancer) and its not looking good. I once enjoyed the holidays but not anymore come November I start feeling down. Its gotten better but it will never be like it used to. I’m so sorry about your loss.

    Posted 11.5.19
  31. Lyn wrote:

    You are one heck of a lady!! So cool, so hip and an inspiration to us all. Our family has shrunk – we are down to a precious few. I am hosting a holiday dinner between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After 40+ years of hosting all the holidays, etc. I took a bit of a break and let our daughter take over. We just recently did some redecorating and the house looks so great I decided to plunge back in and have this get together.

    Posted 11.6.19
  32. annie wrote:

    It is true grief can be over whelming and can cause health issues as well. It has been over 3yrs again that my daughter will not talk to me will not let my grand kids talk to me either. Since she divorced first husband 8yrs ago I have bee treated this way. Perhaps it is the second husband behind all this? I feel very depressed and alone, my grand kids are now 15-16yrs old, the twin boys are 15yrs and 16yr old grand daughter.I reach out but get pushed away emails and texts get blocked so there is no contact. The Christmas season is very lonely time. Each year, I try to hang on to some hope! I decorate the house and garden which I enjoy doing always with the hope they may have a change of heart and call in! I remind myself there is always the love I have from my two cats and dog, so that makes me very lucky having them love me back unconditionally. Merry Xmas to you all out there.

    Posted 11.6.19
  33. Kate wrote:

    I just wanted to say that I admire your strength and outlook with this.

    I lost my mother last fall, and two days later found out I was pregnant (quite an emotional time). Because I had to manage the expression of my grief for the health of my baby girl (who is doing great, btw), I feel like I’m experiencing the “first holidays without mom” this year.

    I really appreciate your reminder not to isolate during grieving. I 100% have that instinct, and am doing my best to make sure that I keep in touch with my support system. It sounds like you have a good support system as well.

    Thank you for such a heartfelt post. My thoughts are with you. We all make it through, somehow.

    Posted 11.7.19
  34. Hi Beth. The holidays are very different since my husband passed away 10 years ago. I am happy but not the sincere happiness I felt when he was here. Family and faith seem to pull me through. Some effort is necessary to have a real happy face. I am just happy I have family to share the time with. God bless you. My best to you=Rosemarie

    Posted 11.7.19
  35. Betsy wrote:

    I’ve been thinking of you and know how very difficult it must be going into the holiday season without your husband. I have been married a long, long tine and I cannot imagine not having my husband with me. We lost our house and all contents in the northern CA fires two years ago in October. The fall holidays seem to come quickly one after another and it was difficult to traverse the season in good spirits. The love of family and friends helped to get us through it. For you I know it will get better, but will take awhile. Things will be different, but hopefully your spirits will rise. You are thought of!

    Posted 11.8.19
  36. Oh, Beth–I had no idea you had lost your husband this summer. Your courgae and dignity shine brightly. I think of you, there in Athens, and how fun it might be to someday meet you (we live in Columbus, GA). You are in my prayers.

    Posted 11.15.19

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