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How to Celebrate the Holidays When You’re Grieving (VIDEO)

By Donna Marie Todd December 19, 2023 Mindset

The Christmas displays go up, holiday music fills the air. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Except at your house. Because when you’re grieving, the holidays can hurt.

The first year I was widowed, no one got ANYTHING from me. (Or, you might find yourself buying every tacky Christmas gift in sight.) The second year I made up for my previous lack of gift-giving and slapped plastic like mad!

It’s not unusual to find that purchases temporarily take the sting of grief away. New things can make you feel new again, for a little while at least.

Why Is It Difficult to Celebrate After a Loss?

When you’re grieving, it’s hard to celebrate. This is largely due to your memories of holidays in the years gone by. Like the Ghost of Christmas Past in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, memories are always there to remind you that things are not the same. They will never be the same. This is often hard to accept.

Your Brain Remembers What “Used to Be”

Your mind is great at reminding you of what used to be. But you may find that old rituals are too painful to repeat now. This is especially true when you are grieving your partner.

The patterned behaviors and holiday traditions you developed over time as a couple have been torn apart. Celebrating the holidays without your partner is a little like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.

You See Others Celebrating but You Feel Invisible

That’s the other hard part. The first week you get cards and calls and casseroles. Then people get back to their busy lives and forget about you. They don’t mean to ignore you, but they don’t quite know what to do with you either. When this happens, it feels like you’re wearing an invisibility cloak.

See also: Why Is Grief Counseling Important?

What Can Make Celebrating Easier?

It’s not impossible to enjoy the holidays when you’re grieving. Realistically speaking, life is never all good or all bad. Even when you’re grieving, it’s totally possible to have happy moments. In fact, it’s really important that you do!

What you’ll want now is a plan for

#1 How you’ll celebrate, and

#2 Who you will celebrate with.

Once you decide on these, you can actively create joyful holiday moments even while you’re in mourning.

Honor Yourself and Your Grief

You’ll need to make a plan to honor your grief. Why? Because when you honor your grief, using a grief container, it is less likely to ambush you when you’re out in public or at family gatherings.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Set a time to release your emotion in the morning and then set a time that night to honor your grief.

Discharging the pain of your emotions in private lets you begin activities with others when you’re feeling emotionally neutral. Then, if something happens during the day to trigger your grief, you’ll know you have a plan.

You’ll be able to remind yourself that you I don’t need to react to the feeling right away. You can do it later, when you’re alone. And then keep that date with yourself. Once your grief is triggered, you must release it. Trust me, this is a very powerful practice.

Get Out Your Calendar

You’ll want to circle those tricky dates that are thick with emotion. For instance, our wedding anniversary was the week before Thanksgiving, and my husband’s first stroke happened on New Year. So, on my calendar, I circle those, as well as Christmas Eve and the other holidays.

These are the dates you’ll want to be very deliberate about beginning and ending the day with private grief work.

Make a List of the Circled Days

Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left, you’ll list the date and occasion. On the right, you’ll write down what you’d like to do on that day and who you would like to celebrate with.

For instance, if you have grandchildren, make cookies for them. If circumstances permit, perhaps you could do this together.

Or, if you’d like to be with a friend or family member for the holiday, call them and make a plan. There’s nothing worse than waiting for an invitation when you’re grieving. Be proactive.

A Plan Keeps You Sane

Acknowledge that the holidays will be challenging this year. But decide that you are entitled to happiness no matter what! Setting happiness as an intention will help ensure that happiness occurs.

Now that you know how to make a plan, use it to give yourself what you need. Especially consider things you’ve always meant or wanted to do, but haven’t. (Like building a gingerbread house or watching The Nutcracker.)

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Are you mourning the loss of a loved one this year? Have you got a plan how to spend the holidays? What new ways of celebrating the holidays would bring you joy? Please share in the comments below, and let’s have a conversation.

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Deborah Powell

Excellent advice.This is my 9th Christmas without my husband and I still have those devastating moments this time of year.I finally passed the baton on the family dinner because my husband always said I was the cook and he was the cookie and he was. Peeling vegetables,watching over the bird.A tremendous help..Now I watch my son do those exact things and it brings joy.Take care everyone.

Mary Harrington

As a mother of 11 grown children and a widow for one year, I am suffering a lot. One daughter and her husband are coming to spend Christmas with me and one son comes with his children two days later. I am blessed; all still love me but they live so far away..
I am so lonely. My friends all are occupied with their families. I had to feel so sorry for myself. Watching television, listening to music and eating helps. I do feel encouraged reading your articles. Thank you.

The Author

Donna Marie Todd is a storyteller and keynote speaker. The author of “Navigating Loss: A Survival Guide for the Newly Widowed,” she is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® who offers online healing programs, blogs, and podcasts. Learn more at and

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