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. Self-care can take a lot of forms, but today let’s focus on tips to cope with 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 handle my grief two years after losing my husband to liver cancer. It’s important to me to share with you tips to cope with grief during the holidays. It isn’t easy but it’s 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 by most accounts shouldn’t be difficult, but oftentimes, is.
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.
Many of you know, I lost my husband of almost 36 years in July 2019. This is the third holiday season I am facing 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 still difficult; not as painful as the first holiday season, but it’s still heartbreaking that I don’t have Mr. Style by my side as I celebrate all the wonderful things this time of year offers. And based on the many questions I receive, 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 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 New Year’s. 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.
Grief doesn’t have a timetable. Grief doesn’t have a rule book. Grief does have different stages but it is unique to each and every person. So give yourself grace and space to cope with grief in your own time and your own way. And let your family members do the same. No matter how long it’s been since a family member or friend has died the holidays will bring grief to the top of our minds. Decorating the Christmas tree reminds me of my loss. It reminds me of all the wonderful Christmas’ from the past spent with Mr. Style. And it reminds me of the Christmas’ in the future that I face alone. But I’ve learned it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. And that it’s more than okay to move forward with my life with a smile and joy in my heart.
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?
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 at least one or more homemade holiday dinners, 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 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.
It’s important to remember your loved one so share a favorite story. Honor their memory with a donation in their name. Or set the table with a spot reserved just for them. Even though they’re not physically with us they will always remain in our hearts.
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.)
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.
Today, I shared five tips to cope with grief during the holidays. It’s not an exhaustive list but it’s a start! i) not facing the holidays alone; ii) grief is unique iii) letting go of expectations; iv) honoring your loved one’s memory v) 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.
is the Founder and CEO of Style at a Certain Age. She writes Sundays-Fridays on all topics ranging from fashion, health, wellness, home design and more.
She’s 63, 5’8, and size 8.
Thank you for this.My husband’s cancer returned suddenly and horribly,and 8 days later,on June 30th,he passed away.I’m still reeling,but started getting help 2weeks ago.Your advice is good .
Beautiful and thoughtful post.
Thank you so much. I lost my 2nd husband almost 2 yrs. ago, and my 1st 30 years ago. I have so many good memories, and much to be thankful for, as both of my husbands were wonderful, and both of my marriages were good ones. But it truly is still overwhelming, and the holidays always are the hardest part of my year. Thank you for your great words of wisdom–words forged out of experience always are the most helpful in this merry/heartbreaking/magical time of year. I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and thank you for sharing with the rest of us.
Thank you so much for this timely article. It was thoughtfully written and helpful. A dear friend lost her husband this year and I sent it on to her.
Beth, what a kind and helpful blog post. Close friends are grieving this Holiday season and you provided some ways I can be thoughtful and sensitive to them.
Many Thanks, Karen
Thank you Beth for sharing these tips. This is my second Christmas without my husband, and although it is much easier than last year, it still takes effort on my part to interact and “be present” in the holiday season. Prayers for all of us that have lost loved ones to be able to emotionally handle the upcoming season,
Thank- you Beth for your words, this year will be my first Christmas without my husband and I will take on board your tips . Empathy to you
Thank you so much for today’s message.
It is heartfelt, honest, and comforting.
Excellent advice! My mom died on Christmas morning 18 years ago this month. The following November, my family attended a gathering to talk about grieving during the holidays that was sponsored by our local hospice.
It was so helpful to be among others who were facing the holidays with grief. The following is a “process” we learned at this gathering & it saved our holidays!
As a family, we made a list of all things related to the holidays that our family did. Then, we – including the kids – went through the list. We crossed out things none of us wanted to do. And, we made agreements like “simple gifts” & “easy shopping” this year. We wanted gifts that pulled us together – games, puzzles, matching pajamas, etc.
We noted things that someone wanted but could not face doing. For example, someone wanted Christmas cookies but just wasn’t up to baking. Then, one of us agreed we could bake cookies or we found someone who could bake cookies for us. Finding people to help us was easy once we had our family list of holiday tasks.
We also decided how to honor our mom during the holidays. For example, we sponsored lights on the hospice Christmas tree & went to the lighting ceremony.
I want to add that you can use this process if you know someone who is grieving during the holidays. Ask them what they would love but just cannot do. Do the toy shopping for their kids. Address Christmas card envelopes. Wrap their gifts. Decorate their house and/or take the decorations down. Try not to offer “generic” help but get specific.
One more comment . . . I am a lay pastor through the Presbyterian Church. I designed a Blue Christmas service for my church. Blue Christmas services specifically are for people who are grieving or having a hard time with the holidays for any reason – job loss, divorce, etc. More & more churches offer such services; although, they may be called the Longest Night. If you are grieving, I highly recommend attending. The Blue Christmas service at my church was very healing for my family. It is something we can count on to remember our mom each year.
I can vouch for the comfort of Blue Christmas services. I attended one with a minister who also had a side his as an Elvis imitator. It sounds hokey, but it was hopeful. Very good to give permission to feel sad at a time when everyone is “supposed” to fell happy.
Thank you. This is a great reminder that a person grieving is not the only one on the planet experiencing it. I’ve been through losses in my life and when grief comes to visit (unannounced of course!) I immediately decide to keep everything simple. I ratchet everything down to a nice less frenetic pace and remind myself what I decided to do long ago — Trust God or be miserable. I don’t want to offend you or any of my fellow readers by saying that, but I have found that
simple thought to meditate on has helped me. And of course, everything you posted is really super helpful. You are a caring person and I truly hope you have a lovely holiday season with everyone including Mr Style, in his own special way.
Dearest Beth – I am sorry for your loss and hope that the Lord will comfort you, your family and readers (of lost loved ones) during this holiday season. Your post is excellent. I’m dealing with estranged family members. This hurts my heart to the core. I love them all so much and yet, they’ve decided to turn away from family. After numerous attempts to mend, they still have chosen to stay away. So thank you for the reminder to “try try again”. Have a Blessed Christmas, everyone!
My husband died 2 years ago also.
My grief and sense of loss will never go away, but I’m seeing that it does get softer.
And we learn to cope with with seems like unimaginable heartbreak.
Just hang in there…..
Beautiful post, Beth. This year we lost my sister, and my son lost his family (not by death but very painfully). We are very close, so when he phones at 11pm, I just let him vent. He will have the children for Christmas, so we have decided that, yes there will be presents, but there will be, more importantly, time. Time spent together, games, movies, Christmas lights tour. Most of all, little private moments, with the grands. They share their fears and I securities and gramma supplies an ear and love.
All the best, to you, Beth, and your family as you move through the season. 🧸
Excellent post! My father was buried on Christmas Eve. I was only nine at the time and they didn’t do counseling much back then. We grieved separately and she carried on to try to make Christmas “normal” for me. Her coping mechanism was to be busier as in making cookies until 1:00 am. When my mother died 35 years later, I realized I had never dealt with my father’s death and now was grieving for both. Carrying on my mother’s tradition, I went overboard at Christmas which upset my husband because that wasn’t his family’s tradition. After counseling, I realized all this, and now know that all the expectation are mine alone. I do what I can and don’t worry about what doesn’t get done. Thank you for reminding me of that this year. That said, It was great to see your package wrapping! That is just what I planned to do. Got all the supplies from good old Amazon. I’m totally in to buffalo plaid this year
Words of wisdom on this post regarding coping with grief during the holidays. My oldest daughter was killed in a car accident several years ago on December 12th. She was 18 years old. My youngest daughter was 16 and I was going through a divorce.
I sustained this season of my life only by the grace of my Heavenly Father. Along with friends and family, we survived. My prayers are with all of you who are facing this difficult season. Merry and Blessed Christmas to everyone.
You are a lovely woman both inside and out. Thank you for this great advice about how to cope with grief during this time of year. May your heart be filled with beautiful memories and love as you celebrate the season.
Thank you for this beautiful post. The holiday season is a wonderful time of the year, but can be emotionally difficult for so many. Kindness to others and ourselves goes a long way right now.
Thank You Beth, for your words.
I lost my Mom 2 years ago, yes it is hard but I agreed that you have to move forward!!
Thank you again
Thank you Beth for your wise words. This season does threaten to overwhelm many of us. January 2 of this year I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. I’ve been in the hospital about four months of this year, and had a stem cell transplant. I am grieving the loss of my previous life, and wondering how much of a burden I am to others. My darling husband is so scared, as am I, that the disease will return in spite of our best efforts. Breast cancer in 2019, Covid in 2020, and leukemia this year. It’s a lot. But I’ll try not to isolate so much, and to lighten up expectations. Your advice is sound.
Thank you so much for this post. As a widow I know all about grief at holidays without my husband. I also lost a daughter 7 years before my husband died. She left 2 little boys. Holidays are very tough and your tips are good ones. Last Christmas I was sick with Covid and, for the first time in 71 years, I was totally alone. That was the worst because all the other losses came crashing in. I pray I can make the holiday just a bit easier for someone else.
Great post, Beth. I am sorry for your loss. As you said, grief has no timetable, and sometimes it’s the second or third year that’s tougher than the first (when you’re still in shock).
You’ve given your readers a virtual hug and pat on the back. We appreciate that! (In between your usual fashion advice, which we enjoy.)
Great post Beth! An elderly friend is experiencing his first her birthday, Thanksgiving, and winter holidays without his spouse of sixty plus years and he’s having a difficult time to say the least. I appreciate you for posting this and I hope it helps others.
Though, I don’t suggest contacting those with whom you are estranged if this separation is good for your mental health. This I know from experience in my family.
Beth and fellow readers:
There’s a wonderful program available nationwide called GriefShare, and groups can be located at griefshare.org. I personally have gone through the program four times – twice as a member and twice as a co-facilitator along with another widow from my church. It’s not a counseling program per se, but a very well-constructed one which gives tools for coping and a reassuring reminder that we are not alone in our grief. I didn’t find it until more than six years after my husband passed, but it helped me to learn how I might move forward in my journey from mourning to joy.
Thank you Beth for this and your other wonderful posts on grief. It’ll be 2 years next week that I lost my beloved husband. Yes the Holidays and special occassions are hard, but we shed a tear and keep on going. Your daily posts have kept me going and looking more fashionable. So even when I may not feel great I look great! Thank you for all your hard work and love you put into every post. God Bless you !
A timely post – probably the best post this year from S@aCA because it’s filled with wisdom from your own emotional experience.
You are so right – grief has it’s own timetable and we must cope as best we can. Your five points are spot-on.
Wishing you a kind and gentle Christmas, Beth and thank you.
Thank you for this post. I just lost my best friend to cancer, a few days ago. I appreciate your thoughtfulness
Hi Beth, my grief is different from yours but, nonetheless, I’m grieving. My husband had lung cancer during the height of COVID. He was home almost a week when he developed full blown sepsis. Although, I am so grateful he survived all of this, it is so difficult in other ways. My husband was an attorney. He has 4 degrees & passed the MA Bar Exam the 1st try. I fell in love with his intellect and how he challenged me. My husband after sepsis is not the same man. He has short term memory loss although, he doesn’t remember a lot of things/memories of our marriage together. It’s like he has dementia but it’s from sepsis. I’m only 63 & he’s 69. He was supposed to be fine after the tumor was removed from his lung. We have a special needs child that we adopted when I was 45, and my son was 2. We were so young for our age that the foster care system approved us. 2 yrs later my dad died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm at 72. 5 yrs later we built an in-law apt in our house for my mom. She’s 93 now & is very difficult. I always assumed my husband would be by my side facing all of life challenges. Now, I’m the one that is making all the decisions & running the house since my husband can not. Plus, I must mention that I’m an only child. As I said, I’m so grateful my husband survived, yet on the other hand, I grieve the husband I had. Does this sound selfish? I’ve thought about you so, so many times since you are my age & lost your husband and how hard it must be and the strength that you have to still live a beautiful life with a beautiful smile on your face. I really admire you. I’m sorry for spilling out all troubles on you. We were supposed to be moving to Sarasota, FL prior to the cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, everyone else wanted to move there also! Now we’re looking at GA. Maybe some day we’ll meet. I wish you a very Merry Christmas. Mr. Style will be watching over you through the holiday season. I’m sure he is so very proud of you!!
In case this helps someone….I am a Psychotherapist and I often recommend this to my clients….who tell me it does help.
This is a TED Talk Nora McInerny gave on grief
This is such a thoughtful and timely post. I saw the title this morning but waited until tonight to read it. My mother passed away in August at age 97. My father died 39 years ago at age 59. Since age 23, she has been my only parent and such a blessing in my life. I miss her every day. (I often say “Can I really be 62 and think of myself as an oprhan?”) My youngest son just moved to Hawaii in November. I missed him for Thanksgiving and I don’t know when I will see him again and that is so hard for me. I will see him but, not for the holidays. Missing him and my mum this Christmas season is very difficult. Your words are very helpful to me. Thank you.
Beth, what a timely post. I lost my husband of 35 years, this September, to cancer as well. Today, I finally mailed out a multitude of benefit packets. These took forever. So much was required. It was tedious and certainly, not easy. Huge victory for me. I am consumed with grief, loneliness and frustration. This holiday season is excruciating. I’ll take your advice to heart. I’ll live one day at a time and reach out to family and friends. I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season. May you all have a safe, healthy and prosperous new year.
I know how hard the first few years of holidays without your husband can be.
I am so sorry for your loss. I too lost my husband of 30 years, 9 years ago now, and I still think of and miss him almost ever day. So for all of you that are grieving
Whether a spouse, brother, sister, parent, during this holiday season, may God bless you and give you strength and
remember the goods times with that person. When you do may it bring a smile to you lips.
Thank you Beth! Your post was very thoughtful. As a widow myself I know holidays are a very difficult time. As I told another widow, I am trying hard to say “yes”, to most all invitations these days.
Coffee, lunch or a trip to the grocery store with a neighbor. Im working hard at moving back into life…. its an uphill battle on many days. But being out and with friends is so much better.
Id love to here more ideas for traveling solo. Are there some safe groups that don’t prey on seniors? Id love to hear about some ideas. I think we all are wanting to get out these days but have no idea what to do about it.
Wise Words Beth as always. by the way love your outfit
Thank you for this reminder and suggestions which are very helpful for the Christmas season. Like you my husband died July 21, 2019 suddenly of a massive heart attack. The holidays are still a bit of a struggle, but I began celebrating in a new way by staying overnight at my daughter’s home on Christmas Eve and celebrating with them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We will always miss Alan’s presence, but through faith, family and friends our journey is made easier.
Beautifully and thoughtfully written. You are more than qualified to speak on this. Lots of great ideas, especially just doing what you can.
So giving of you to share your experience to help others.
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