How To Fight Back Against Holiday Grief

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By Gary Roe

Grief and the holidays are a tough combination.

Loss is hard enough. Add holiday expectations and stress on top of the grief, and every day can seem like a solo swim of the Pacific.

Holidays are special times, full of deep and powerful memories. This season surfaces our losses and throws them in our faces. We’re keenly aware of who’s missing. We bump into another memory with every decoration, song, or activity.

If you’re grieving, you might be wondering, “How do I survive this?”

First, give yourself permission to grieve.

Loss is painful. Our hearts weep, and sometimes break. When someone exits, the void created is stunning. We miss everything – their presence, face, voice, smell, touch, laughter – the list goes on and on. The intensity of the grief can smother us like a blanket.

Loss hurts. It should. We’re designed for relationship, and we don’t do separation well.

If you’re hurting this Christmas season, please be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve.

Second, take your own heart seriously.

Your heart is your most prized possession. It is always under assault, especially during the holidays. Expectations, duties, and obligations. Internal and external pressures. Financial worries, physical concerns, and relational stresses.

As wise King Solomon said, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the spring from which everything else flows.” Your heart needs protecting. Here are some questions that might help:

  • What does your heart most need during this season?
  • Do you need more time alone? More time with others?
  • Who do you need time with? Who is helpful to you at present?
  • What do you want to do this holiday season? How? When? With whom?
  • Do you need more activity or less?
  • Do you need to downgrade your expectations of yourself, others, or the holidays in general?

Protect and nurture your heart. You’re too valuable not to.

Third, intentionally plan to remember and honor your loved one.

Your heart deserves this. Your loved one deserves it too. Everyone wants to be remembered.

How will you honor your loved one this holiday? Don’t be afraid to intentionally include them. In fact, you will not be able to exclude them. They inhabit your heart. You take them with you wherever you go.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Speak their name, out loud, and often.
  • Tell their story. Share memories with those who will listen.
  • Continue a familiar holiday tradition in their honor.
  • Write them a letter, expressing what they mean to you and what you miss most.
  • Have a time of sharing and story-telling as a family.
  • Donate to a charity or serve in their name.

Be proactive and creative. Have a plan. Keep it simple.

Fourth, consider serving others.

You are not alone. Plenty of others are hurting and grieving. Though grief is a lonely road, it is also well-populated.

There’s something about reaching out and serving others when we’re hurting that brings a little healing to our hearts somehow. It gives us perspective and pulls us out of our pain for a little while. Service, and seeing the gratitude of others, can be salve to our wounds.

Use your grief to make this season all it can be.

If you’ve lost someone, this holiday will be different. Parts of it may be painful and emotional, but this season can still be good.

Give yourself permission to hurt, even while surrounded by happy, smiling faces. Take your heart seriously. Be kind to yourself and take good care of you. Intentionally remember and honor your loved one. Reach out beyond the pain, put your grief to work, and serve.

Yes, this holiday will be different, but it can still be good.

Gary Roe is an award-winning author, chaplain, and grief counselor with Hospice Brazos Valley. Visit him at for more practical grief resources, or contact him at (979) 821-2266 or