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Grieving Through the Holidays: Our Lost Gifts

Thanksgiving is officially here after a month of retailers reminding us that the holidays are coming. The holiday season is accompanied by anticipation, excitement, and let’s be honest, an elevated level of stress. But for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, these typical feelings are replaced instead with dread, sadness and a desire to hide away until well after another year begins. The process of grieving, which is often a lengthy and emotional roller coaster, runs in stark contrast to the holiday cards, commercials, joyful faces and well wishes this time of year, leaving grieving individuals feeling more alone and empty than ever.

While many people are thankful and enjoying (or not) their loved ones, for individuals who are grieving, the holidays are an inescapable reminder of their lost loved one. Memories aren’t sufficient to fill the void. It is an especially hard time of year when grieving.

Some tips to consider in the weeks to come. For the bereaved:

  • Most importantly, take care of yourself during this difficult time, making yourself a priority: allow yourself an adequate sleep schedule and nutritious meals. ASK FOR HELP! Let friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, your church community, etc. know that you welcome meals, help with childcare, someone to run errands, etc.

  • For those recently bereaved, give yourself permission to scale back or even opt out of your usual holiday activities. If some time has passed since your loss, consider what traditions you want to continue this year, which you want to adapt or stop altogether. It’s not necessary to do things just because you always have nor is it necessary to abandon traditions that are meaningful to you.

  • Check in with yourself emotionally. Ask: Do I feel selfish because I want to be alone? Do I feel guilty if I I’m grumpy with others or don’t want to do what others want me to do? Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Don’t ignore the sadness. Let the tears come.

  • Actively remember your loved one. There are many ways to memorialize your loved one: visit special places, look at pictures, write, sing a special song, make a donation to a favorite charity or cause, take time to share fond memories with others, purchase a new holiday ornament or other memorabilia each year.

For support persons:

  • Small acts of love and kindness go a long way. Send a card or note; bring gifts of food, especially fruits and vegetables and no-prep meals; offer to watch the children; take the pet dog for a walk, offer to pick up items during your grocery trip, etc. Don’t wait to be asked, just do it and continue doing so long after the loss.

  • Check in with your friend or loved one in the days, weeks and months following their loss. Don’t be afraid to ask how they are doing. Accept where they are in the grief process without pressure to think or feel differently. Don’t take it personally if they decline invitations or aren’t reaching out to you.

  • Be there, don’t avoid. In loss, it’s not unusual for others to shy away from the bereaved, often out of discomfort or fear or not knowing what to say. For those grieving, having others listen and “just be” with them as they grieve is more important that hearing the “right” words (there are none).

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve” ~Earl Grollman

For local support groups and other resources, please visit the Delaware Grief Awareness Consortium website at

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