Coping With Grief During the Holidays By Sarah Netzky, MA, LPC

On Saturday December 3, I offered a workshop on how to deal with the grieving process during the holiday season. In this two-hour workshop, participants learned new information about grief and grieving but most importantly they were able to get support from others who themselves are grieving. Below is a review of what was covered at the workshop.

What is Grief?

Grief is a normal, natural human response to a loss. Everyone’s grief is different. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. While grief has particular hallmarks and things that most people will experience, each of us it will express our grief uniquely. It is unreasonable to expect your grief to match others around you but the differences are sometimes difficult to manage internally and interpersonally. Although the feelings and emotions can be hard to tolerate, they are normal and will ease as time goes on.

When will it be over?

This was a main question among the workshop participants and one that often comes up in the grieving process. Unfortunately, there is no predictable timeline or end date for grief. While it feels all-encompassing at first, it does lessen as time goes on. Grief ebbs and flows. Sometimes the feelings will be pretty manageable, while other times the feelings will become very intense. One of the workshop members said it best, describing grief as a roller coaster. The anger, despair, fear and sadness that accompany grief can be triggered at any time by things such as anniversaries, familiar places and even dreams. The first year after the loss is usually the most challenging. This is when these triggers are being experienced for the first time; the first birthday without the loved one, the first annual vacation, the first holiday, and especially the first anniversary of the death. During these reminders, it can feel like the loss is brand new again and one can easily feel overwhelmed and isolated again, much like the period shortly after the loss. After the first death anniversary, people often move into a different phase of the grieving where the triggers are less frequent and less intense. But there will never be a time when this loss won’t matter or you won’t be affected by it. And that is ok.

Coping Skills for the Holidays

Coping with the holidays can be difficult as you must decide what you can do with the traditions you had and the feelings that come up knowing the person you loved will not be with you. Here are some tips regarding traditions:

  • Continue the Traditions – If the tradition included taking pictures, you might take a picture while holding a picture of your loved one or special memento that represents your relationship with the person you lost.
  • Take a Year Off – Acknowledge that the first year is likely to be the hardest. Take any pressure off of yourself to decide what to do about your holiday traditions. For now, allow yourself to grieve and reassess what you want to do next year.
  • Create New Traditions – You may create new traditions by lighting candles in memory, having each person present say something about the lost loved one, keeping a place the table, or writing a letter to your loved one.

No matter what you choose to do surrounding the traditions at the holidays, birthday, or anniversaries, the most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself while you are grieving. Here are some tips for self-care during this difficult time:

  • Get support around your grief through trusted friends, family, religious leaders, or your counselor. Look for support groups where you can be together with those who are sharing a similar experience.
  • Snuggling a beloved pet can and have brought comfort to those who are grieving. The pet gives unconditional love and acceptance and can give meaning to the person who is grieving
  • Do something special for yourself on a regular basis: enjoying a special food or drink, making time for that pet project, getting a massage, exercising or taking a bubble bath.
  • Buying yourself a gift or taking a short trip on your own or sign up for a retreat.

Feedback from the workshop

I truly enjoyed getting to know the workshop participants and hearing their stories. They reported feeling supported and left feeling encouraged. Each member voiced a wish for more, either in the form of longer and more frequent workshops or an ongoing support group. I am happy to develop more offerings in response to what is clearly a need for grief support here in the city. If you would like to provide feedback or request a specific service, feel free to contact me at Otherwise, please keep your eye on this blog for announcements about future workshops and groups.

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