Coping with grief at Christmas

Coping with grief at Christmas  name

Christmas is a time of joy. Everywhere we look we’re encouraged to be cheery and bright, to spend up large on presents and food, to entertain, celebrate with family and friends, and spread boundless good will. 

The holiday terrain can be some of the hardest to travel for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Christmas will never be the same. There is an empty chair at the table. 

For families navigating this emotional time of year there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to coping. What works for one, may not for another. Having a plan can help ease the tension and stress, particularly for the days leading up to Christmas, because they can be tougher than the actual day itself. 

How would your family like to remember your loved one at Christmas? Openly and actively, perhaps lower key with subtlety, or bury your heads in the sand and just get through it? All options are OK. Do what works for you. Think of yourself. We are so often encouraged not to by others but it is your right to grieve as you wish. 

If the grief is new and raw, it may be too hard to plan but try to make a decision.

Plan A may be going to the Christmas dinner, but if it’s too hard,

Plan B may be visiting the gravesite or going to a special place.


By making a decision and back-up plan, you are prepared when others suggest their ways for coping and you can say, ‘This is what I’ve decided to do.’ If you have young children, the distraction and activity of keeping Christmas going may help on the day and ‘going through the motions’ could help you too. 

Think about your Christmas traditions – which ones are important, and can you cope with them this year? Or cancel Christmas altogether. Take a year off. It’ll come around again.

Remembering the person who has died can happen at specific times – anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas – and this can be planned. Many choose to remember with rituals that can be just for you, or for your wider family and friends. Rituals can be a one-off, or something you continue for years. It’s up to you.

Here are some suggestions for Christmas.


  • Hang a special ornament on the tree – maybe you have one that was your child’s favourite, or a bauble with Uncle Joe’s photo on it.  
  • Offer the candy that Dad loved most, the same with Auntie Maude’s Famous Asparagus Rolls. In this way, the loved one is included and people can share the memory. 
  • Attend a Christmas Eve service. Even if you are not religious, a service can provide space for you to speak your private acknowledgment of the person who has died. 
  • Light a candle. 
  • Perhaps peonies were your Mum’s favourite flower. Buy some and place on the Christmas table.
  • Share favourite family stories and memories of your loved one.

Others may be critical of your ritual – ‘it’s not right’, ‘not serious enough’. Don’t listen. It’s all about you and your way of acknowledging the person who is missing. 

At holiday time, be gentle with yourself and don’t do more than you want, or are able, to do. Plan some quiet time. If you accept invitations, give yourself the option of changing your mind or leaving early.

Do what supports your soul and your loss. 


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