Holiday Grief

Despite the festive decorations and cheery holiday events on the calendar, this time of year may be the most difficult for those of us who have lost a loved one. Whether a person’s grief is new or long-standing, it is very common to re-experience that loss at such “anniversary moments.”

For some, the recognition that a holiday will be different without that person creates a sense of dread about the occasion that leads to avoidance and isolation. For others, the reaction can come as a surprise, or what Alan Wolfelt describes as sudden “grief attacks” or “memory embraces” in his book Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal. While he acknowledges that many bereaved people do not ask for support and therefore suffer alone on such anniversary days, he notes the importance of finding help and “mapping” the way to getting it.

Knowing that a grief response is completely normal, even when it contrasts from the expected holiday cheer, is part of acceptance. All of us experience grief at some point in our lives and we can make the choice to help ourselves heal. While it takes practice to treat yourself with compassion when these moments occur, it is the sort of discipline that builds on itself and moves us into the space of helping others as they face the same challenges.