7 Tips for Navigating Grief During the Holidays

If your loss is recent, this holiday season is going to feel different. You already know that — which actually is an advantage. Why? The greatest gusts of sorrow are often tripped by the unforeseen, sudden memories or cues that catch you off guard.

Coming into the holidays, your eyes are wide open. So, latch onto the inevitability of difference. And know that difference is neither a bad thing nor a good thing. It just is.

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Here are some ways to navigate grief this holiday season:

Consider Changing Venues

If you’ve always been the Chrismas Eve host, perhaps this is the year to accept a sibling’s offer to hold the family gathering. If the thought of trimming the tree fills you with dread, consider attending a friend’s gathering instead.

Bend Tradition

Traditions are like rules: They’re made to be broken—or at least bent. If the absence of a stocking on the mantle makes your heart ache, hang the family array in a different location. If the missing loved one is the only family member who actually loved the annual egg nog, mix up a batch of hot apple cider. Indulge your creativity. Invite your children’s input. They may surprise you with some wonderful ideas that will set you on the way toward creating new traditions.

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Say Hello to the Pachyderm

Don’t be afraid to mention the elephant in the room. While you may be hungering to share memories of your absent loved one, well-intended friends and relatives may be leaving him or her out of the conversation for fear of upsetting you. So, take the lead. “Hey, you remember the time that …” If they still don’t get it and their silence makes you uncomfortable, offer a clear prompt: “I like it when you share your memories of …” They’ll appreciate your guidance.

Get Choosy

Be selective about your holiday obligations. If you don’t feel like doing it, don’t. Friends and relatives will understand. If they don’t, well, that’s their problem, not yours.

Claim Your Time

Carve out time for yourself. Feel like a jog? A holiday movie? A cleansing cry? Go for it. You are entitled to claim what you need.

Joy is Possible

Don’t assume the holidays will be a mega downer. When the festive mood catches hold, let it flow. Savor the pleasure. It’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time. Really.

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Jill Smolowe is a grief coach. Her new memoir, Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief, will be published in April, 2014.