Coping with Grief During the Holidays

While the holiday season is often viewed as a joyous time of celebration, it’s important to recognize that many individuals are struggling with the weight of grief due to the loss of a loved one. Prevention Action Alliance (PAA) recently reached out to Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C, Program Director, and Co-Founder of What’s Your Grief, to gain insights on navigating any form of grief during the holiday season.

Learn valuable tips and ideas by watching the video, where Litsa Williams shares thoughts on coping with grief during the holidays or supporting someone going through this challenging period. Alternatively, you can read the detailed transcript provided below.

Coping with Grief During the Holidays

By: Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C

The holiday season is so hard for people, no matter the type of loss people are going through. We have so many memories and specific ideas about what the holidays should look like based on the past, who was with us, or where we were. We are often so aware of who is missing or how things have changed that it can make the holiday season especially difficult.

I wanted to share a few ideas, suggestions, and thoughts about the holiday season. It certainly isn’t anything that can take the pain away, but there are things that can help with being able to get through the holiday season and cope as a family.

When we think about the issue of grief during the holidays, one of the things that is so challenging is that everyone in your family grieves differently. What you might be experiencing, or what is helpful for you, may be incredibly different from what someone else in your family is experiencing and what might be helpful for them. As you plan for your holiday season, one of the top priorities is to sit down and talk to each other as a family – sit down and acknowledge that it will probably be a tough time of year for everyone, in different ways, and for different reasons. Just open up to communication about the holidays:  what they are worrying about, if people have had any ideas about what they want or don’t want out of their holiday season.

Roles and Responsibilities

Within this can be a conversation about roles or needs. It might be that a person you have lost played a huge part in your holiday season, and now you need to think about who will step in to fill some of the roles that that person used to fill. It may be that some people in your family, or you in particular, are feeling overwhelmed by roles that you filled in the past. Maybe you are the person who has always made the meals or done the shopping, and you don’t feel up to it this year. It is important to articulate that to your family and discuss sharing those responsibilities. If someone else can step into some of those roles. Or if it would be helpful to let some of those roles and responsibilities go this year.

To decide that things will look a little different or that some of those traditions will have to change. It doesn’t mean that you are changing them forever. It just means you are changing them for this year.

To decide that things will look a little different or that some of those traditions will have to change. It doesn’t mean that you are changing them forever. It just means you are changing them for this year. You can take each year as it comes and see what feels right for you this year and then revisit that next year.

Skipping the Holidays

It may be that you as a family decide to take a break from the holiday altogether and just keep your head down and skip it. That is absolutely okay if you decide you want to do that. We encourage you to think about how you will spend the day instead if you decide to do that. Often, people decide to skip the holiday but don’t think through what the day will look like. And when the day comes, they feel like it was maybe even harder than it would have been otherwise. Or harder than they expected because they didn’t make a plan for what that day would look like. Maybe that plan is to hang out, watch your favorite movies, and eat carryout. It doesn’t have to be a fancy plan, but it often helps to have thought through what the day will look like. Again, if you decide to skip the holiday, it doesn’t mean you are skipping it forever. It just means that you aren’t feeling up to it this year, and that is also okay.

Staying Connected to the One You Lost

If you are sitting down with family members, one thing you want to consider is if there are ways you want to stay connected to the person who died. Sometimes, it can feel difficult if someone is missing from the holiday table and no one acknowledges it. Or there is no conversation about that absence. As a family, try to decide in advance whether there are things you want to do to honor that person. Maybe you will make the food that that person traditionally made or make their favorite food for the holiday. Maybe, if it is a gift-giving holiday, you will still buy the gift you would have bought them, and you, as a family, will donate those gifts somewhere or exchange them with each other. Instead, it may be that you do some memory sharing and go around, and all share a good holiday memory of that person who isn’t here. There are no rules to what it looks like to continue bonds and connections during the holidays. So brainstorm some ideas, think about what would be nice, and also make sure you don’t catch people off guard. If you want to invite people to share some memories, it could be helpful to let them know in advance. Some people find that overwhelming or emotional, and it can be hard if they feel like they are put on the spot for it. So, thinking about what that might look like can be important.

Allow Joy this Holiday

One of the most important things during the holidays is to permit yourself to find joy in the holiday season. Often, people will feel tremendous amounts of guilt during the holidays if they enjoy things or start to feel that magic and wonder or comfort that can come with the holiday season. Sometimes, people feel their pain is their connection to that person, or they don’t deserve a good holiday season if the person they love isn’t here. It is so important to remember that your pain is not your connection to the person who died. Your connection to the person who died is all your incredible memories of them, the values they instilled in you, the things they taught you, and how you live differently in the world now because you knew them and because they were a part of your life. Those are the ways you keep the connection to that person going. Your pain is something that, in fact, in many cases, can make it harder to feel connected with those memories. It is harder to tell those stories or to come together.

I would encourage you this year to know that there is space for all of your grief and sadness but also for moments of comfort and family and joy and appreciation.

I would encourage you this year to know that there is space for all of your grief and sadness but also for moments of comfort and family and joy and appreciation.  We encourage you to remember that one of those things doesn’t have to take away from the other. All of those feelings can live side-by-side together during the holiday season.

Additional Resources for Coping with Grief During the Holidays

There are a lot of great resources online. Visit What’ We have a section on holidays and special days with dozens of articles, ideas, and resources for coping with grief during the holiday season. We also have resources if you want to support someone else during this holiday season.

Supporting a Grieving Person

It is important to remember to take your cues from the grieving person. Assume they know best for themselves. Don’t try to fix it or find a silver lining. Let them know that you are there to support them during the holiday season. No matter what they feel comfortable with or don’t feel comfortable with, make sure to reach out and invite people to let them know you are thinking of them. Know that they must be having a hard time during this holiday season, and let them know you are there for them in whatever way they most need your support.


Prevention Action Alliance thanks Litsa Williams and What’s Your Grief for taking the time to share this valuable information with us!