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December 2, 2014
by Marti Wormuth, MA

Getting through the Holidays After a Loss

December 2, 2014 04:55 by Marti Wormuth, MA  [About the Author]

As the holidays grow ever closer, some people have a lot on their mind, and it's sad to see them try and work through their feelings during this time of year. This is especially true if someone has been trying to work their way through the loss of a loved one. Losing a loved one, whether it was days before or years before a holiday, gives the holidays a bittersweet feeling, and it can be really hard for people to work through those emotions in a healthy manner. Why are the holidays so hard after a loss? What can we do to help people walk through this time of year with less pain and more joy? That's what we are going to look at today, in hopes that we can help you and/or your loved ones work through this painful time with a little less pain and a little more joy for the holiday season. 

Why Are The Holidays Hard After a Loss?

Obviously, a loss is hard for everyone and anyone involved, but some times of the year hurt that much more than others. The holidays are especially painful for a few select reasons; these are the most common ones that you will come across. 

There's an empty chair at the table. If you have a family gathering of some sort, or a meal or another get together, you may notice the loved one(s) that you are missing. It makes it that much harder to see what is going on and to feel as if you are able to cope through the life changes that are happening. 

Traditions may feel empty and lost without them. If there's something that they always did (say the blessing before the meal, something with gifts, whatever it may be), it may feel really empty when it comes to that time. You may wonder what to do, and the moments could be incredibly emotional for everyone that is there. Some people may even avoid those traditions entirely to make sure that the pain doesn't get brought up, which could make the whole thing even harder for everyone involved. 

Memories may be brought up while with other people. When you're sitting around the table or hanging out after dinner, conversations will happen, and the people that you lost may come up in those conversations, because they were part of the traditions for so long. Some people find comfort during these conversations, whereas others may feel as if they are more stressed out as a result of them. It depends on the circumstance and your particular family's way of dealing with things. 

Some people may end up spending the holidays alone. If you've lost a family member, or several, within a period of time, you may end up spending your holiday season by yourself because there is no one to spend it with, or so you may assume there isn't. This makes it even harder, because you're sitting there with your thoughts and you feel as if you have no one to turn to - it can be a very heart breaking event in your life, and it can make the grieving process that much more difficult for you to work through in a healthy and safe manner. 

What Can We Do to Alleviate the Pain? 

Obviously, the pain will never completely go away, but we can make the holidays much easier for people who are trying to work through their pain and heartache. Grief is a long process, and for some people, it can take years for them to work through all of the stages, especially if they were incredibly close to the person they lost. Some things can make the holidays much easier for people, and we hope that these ideas will help you to have a better holiday season after losing someone that you love. 

Create new memories for the holiday season. If you had traditions with your loved one, that doesn't mean you have to stick to them - make new ones. Do new things. After my mother passed away in 2010, we started going out for Thanksgiving dinner instead of making it, and we've done that ever since. It's something new and different, and it makes the holidays hurt a little less. It also gets us out of the house, so that helps with the memories as well. Think of new things that you can do in order to help reduce the sting that may come with the holiday season, and that will help you enjoy it more often. 

Talk about the hurt that you're feeling with your loved ones. Some families are open with this, others may not be. If your family is the latter, then you will want to find someone else that you can talk to. Whether friends, or coworkers, or whoever else that can help you walk through your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. You just need to be sure that you have a way to release your thoughts and feelings so that you can try to work through the holidays, even though your loved one is gone now. Sharing will help you to release some of the hurt. 

Do something to remember your loved one by, if it won't make it harder for you to work through. If you can, take some time to remember your loved one during the holidays. Some people will go and put flowers on the grave of the person who has passed away, others will light a candle or make sure that there is a picture of them somewhere so that they are remembered during this time of the year. By doing something in remembrance, it won't bring them back, but it will allow you to work through some of the feelings that you may have and you may be able to grieve a little bit so that you can try to enjoy the rest of the day or season. 

Seek professional help if you are in need of it. Sometimes, you need a little extra help to make it through the holidays. If you need to see a mental health professional, go ahead and do it. They understand that the holidays are hard, and they can help you find coping skills and other things that you can do in order to make it through the holiday season after losing your loved one. Professionals are trained to help people with these sorts of things related to grief, so make use of them, reach out, and realize that you aren't going to walk through the whole thing by yourself. 

Don't "fake it until you make it." Please don't ever do this. A lot of people will try to be strong and stand up, and carry everyone else that is hurting. But don't do that - it's okay to feel the pain that you are feeling, and you should allow  yourself to work through it in a healthy manner. Be honest and open about your feelings, allow yourself to cry if that's what you need to do, and keep moving forward. By faking it, you're causing extra stress for yourself and you may be making it harder for others to mourn as well. 

Plan ahead so that you're prepared in case things get difficult. Planning ahead is a great idea if you aren't sure how people are going to deal with losing the loved one during this time of year. Talk things out ahead of time, have a game plan so people can step away from the festivities if they have to, and be sympathetic toward it. By planning ahead, you can try to get rid of some of the difficult parts of the holiday, and you can reduce stress, which will help prevent some of the really strong emotions that may occur during the holiday season, whether you've lost a loved one or not. 

Take care of yourself and your health during this time. Every aspect of your health, from mental, to physical, to emotional, to spiritual, is important during this time. By making sure that your whole self is taken care of, you will feel better and your stress levels will decrease, which will help you to have more of a "grip" on your emotions. This, in turn, will make it easier for you to think about your feelings and work through them in a healthy way without totally falling apart at that point. Stick to your diet and exercise plans, enjoy yourself, and stay healthy and you will find that at least a little of your pain is alleviated. 

The holidays are the most difficult time of year if you've lost a loved one. If you or someone you know is trying to work through their first (or one of many) holidays after losing a loved one, there are plenty of resources that you can use to get the help you need. Be sure to check out what we've got available here on the website, because you will never have to go through the pain of losing a loved one alone. Contact a local mental health professional to help you today and start your journey toward enjoying the holiday season again, and have the best holiday that you can have with your current circumstances. 


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Hutchison, C. (2010, December 24). The First Holiday Without Them -- Coping With Loss. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from 

Stordahl, N. (2010, December 20). Twelve Tips For Getting Through the Holidays After Loss. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from

About the Author

Marti Wormuth, MA Marti Wormuth, MA

Marti has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Communication Studies. Her favorite activities include reading, playing games, and hanging out with the students at her church. Marti volunteers with the youth ministry at her church as a teacher and mentor. Because of this, she recently started another degree, her graduate certificate in student ministries. She considers her current graduate work to be a stepping stone to becoming a youth pastor or a published author.

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