Coping with Holiday Grief

2020 has been a hard, unpredictable year.

Most of us, I’m sure, are happy to see it wrapping up! While there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding how 2021 will fare, there is something cathartic about imaging 2020 in our rearview mirror.

But before we get there, we still have the last hurdle… making it through winter holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, etc. while still in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

This time of year, usually filled with parties, trips to see friends and loved ones, swapping presents, and lots and lots of socializing. But this year, it’s all a lot quieter. As COVID numbers continue to rise, holiday plans are being canceled and altered. We may be able to zoom loved ones in far away places, but that’s about as close as we can really get with the current state of things.

This grief of missing people and traditions, on top of any grief from COVID losses throughout the year, is making it really hard–possibly impossible–to enjoy the season.

The hard truth of it is: we won’t be able to make this month feel how it usually does for us.

And that in itself might be cause for grief. After ten months of living through a pandemic the losses continue to add up and we’re completely justified in feeling that it just isn’t fair. In a fair world, we wouldn’t be concerned about our neighbors’ health and safety when we go to the grocery store, and we’d be able to spend time with our loved ones during the holidays.

Instead of trying to make this time seem normal, we need to acknowledge the grief, not suppress it, and try to find new ways to add joy to our season instead of letting the absence of what is usually there take over our holidays.

Let yourself feel your grief:

The grief, unfortunately, isn’t going anywhere even if you ignore it. And, when we don’t acknowledge or tend to our grief, it can actually have negative impacts on our health.

Not letting yourself feel your grief can also make you feel worse in the moment. You’re basically telling yourself that your hurt isn’t bad enough to warrant acknowledgement. But it is! This has been an incredibly hard time, and even if other people seem to “have it worse” that doesn’t mean your pain should be ignored.

Ways you can acknowledge and tend to your grief:

  • Talk about it: call a close friend and let them know how you’re feeling. Chances are they’re feeling a lot of the same things. We’re all living through this hard time together. Giving yourself and a loved one some space to get all of those feelings out in the air can be cathartic for both of you.
  • Journal: if you don’t feel comfortable talking about the grief you’re feeling with someone else, journaling about it can help give you that same feeling of release, and get the weight of it off your chest.
  • Write a letter or a holiday card to the people or things you miss: What do you miss about them? How can you hold that love for them with you still? What else are you feeling, besides missing them? Anger? Nostalgia? Write it all into the letter.

Create new traditions:

Instead of feeling the absence of old traditions, ask yourself what new traditions you can make this year. Even if they’re only temporary traditions. Just because things can’t look exactly as they did last year, doesn’t mean there’s no point to finding ways to bring some joy into your life.

Maybe you usually go back to your parents for the holidays, but can’t travel this year. Instead of only mourning that tradition, ask yourself what new things you can do to get some of that feeling of connection and love that you get from those home visits. Could you video chat your mom while you both cook something together? or could you watch the same holiday movie at the same time, even in different places? Could you get a favorite recipe from a loved one and try to make it yourself?

If you’re struggling this holiday season, please contact our licensed Houston therapists at the Grief Recovery Center for help today.

Asma Rehman
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