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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Grieving: 7 tips to get you through the holidays

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 15th 2008

man at tombstoneHolidays are traditionally a time to take a pause in our hectic lives, gather together with family and friends, and celebrate. However, for many who have recently, or not too recently, suffered the loss of a close friend, family member, or relationship, it can be an uncomfortable reminder that they are no longer here. The death of a loved one may leave you with feelings of sadness, guilt, or anger, reeling at the injustice of the world. You may be left financially challenged or at odds with other members of your family or friends. Sadness or depression may loom overhead with the thought "I don't know how I'm ever going to make it through this." Conscious and unconscious reminders seem like they're everywhere. It's pretty tough to hold all this when others are expecting you to be celebrating and cheerful. These expectations alone make you feel more depressed and like isolating more.

Here are some suggestions for surviving the holidays while grieving.

  • Set realistic expectations - Grieving can take quite some time and everyone is on their own clock. If this is your first holiday, be kind to yourself by knowing that this holiday may be more difficult than those passed. You will likely have uncomfortable emotions and may not be very cheerful.

  • Finding the light - See if you can notice any moments that provide a sense of comfort. Whether it's a child being pleasantly surprised by a gift, the taste of special food, a smile on your face, or simply feeling relieved when the holidays pass. These feelings will come and go, but see if you notice any moments while they are there.  

  • Let others know - Often times other friends and family may feel the inclination to try and "cheer you up" if any sadness or uncomfortable emotions arise. Let them know that these emotions may arise and while you appreciate them trying to cheer you up, it's Ok for you to experience them.  

  • Know your limits - Give yourself permission to leave the group of people if it's getting too overwhelming and take a time-out. Go on a walk, lie down in another room, or just remove yourself and have a good cry. These emotions need to pass through and it is Ok to take time to experience them.

  • Spending time with the person who passed - You may want to create some sort of ritual where you express your feelings toward the person who passed. This could be writing a letter, going to the grave, or spending time in prayer if you are spiritual or religious. You can create your own idea.

  • Giving - Often times being altruistic is a great way to work through grief. Maybe this year you want to volunteer somewhere like a homeless shelter or make/buy special gifts for those who are around that you care about. Try this out.

  • Grief support group & individual therapy - If you haven't already checked out a grief support group, this may be a good thing to investigate. Look online in your area to see if there are any around. You may also want to look into individual therapy which can also be a powerful support during this time.

Overall, treat yourself with love and kindness during this time and know that the intensity of this feeling will lessen over time. It is important to spend time reminiscing and feeling the emotions and also important to live in the present moment knowing that "this too shall pass".

Please feel free to share what has worked for you in your time of grief. Your living wisdom can be enormous support to others.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Lost sister - Alisha Murphy - Jan 28th 2013


Thank you for this great post and helpful tips, Elisha!

I lost my sister to cancer, my better half, my best friend, my everything last year. I loved (still do) her so much. At a sudden she's gone and I'm alone. We did so much together that everything reminded me of her. I was devastated. My life changed. All my happiness and joy was gone and I had lost interest in everything. Thanks of a professional online coach (recommend you Your24hcoach) I called anytime I needed to talk me every thought off my chest I recognized that you have to look forward. Sad to say, but you can't change what happened. Life, despite it's certain cruelties, goes on. You can't stop living because of a loss of a beloved one. I thought of my sister. What would she want me to do? She loved me so much she wouldn't want me to stop enjoying my life. You have to appreciate to have the chance to have the possibility to enjoy your life furthermore. It's a horrible period a loving person has to experience. Nevertheless, we have to accept it as part of our life. I can only recommend you to seek professional help if you can't see any betterment. They can help you process your thoughts and feelings. You can talk anything off your chest. I mean if you really loved what you lost, it won't stop hurting. Nevertheless, you have to try to transform all the wonderful memories in positive power. Don't stop enjoying your life! Your beloved one would ask you to do so!


good greif - nina - Nov 9th 2010

I am 59 yrs old. in the past 20 years, i have lost my sister and friend, father a dear, my mother after caring for her for 10 yrs following her stroke, my brother and friend and 5 cousins that were my peers and friends. I decided I had some choices about how I was greiving after my sis died.That night Dec.5th my children and I went outside and put lights on our small pine tree for her. We were sure she never would have wanted to have her death ruin our love of St. Nicks Eve. The little tree sparkled, we cried and laughed and called it our Happy tree! Every holiday, we light a candle to include all who have passed but are still with us. Don't get stuck, greive your way through it and you will be amazed at the strength you find inside that God has hidden for this time.

My beloved son-in-law died - DLS - Nov 23rd 2009

Our beloved son-in-law died Feb. 23, 2009.  M was the most amazing person I have ever had the oppotunity to know and we miss him terribly.

Our daughter is greiving terribly and does not think she can make it through life without her loving husband.  M was a wonderful husband, so loving and kind to our daughter. 

We have encouraged our daughter to take anti-depressants and to get grief therapy.  She has taken anti-depressants twice since her husband's death but stopped both times because the anit-depessant made her shake.

We have asked her to return to the doctor and try a different anti-depressant but she refuses.  She absolutely refuses any type of counseling.

Please pray for our daughter.  Thank you

My Best Friend In the World - Lia - Dec 27th 2008

I lost my 56 year old mother several months ago this year. I didn't just lose my mom, I lost my best friend and my world. I spoke to her every single day of my life. She was closer to me than anyone else I know. Needless to say I am having a horrible time getting through this. Being an only child, I have no siblings with whom I could grieve. I'm totally alone through this process. I couldn't bear to spend Christmas with the rest of my family and decided that I needed to stay home and be on my own. I thought it would be easier somehow, but it was still a difficult day.

 It doesn't feel like this will ever get better although everyone says it will. It's been 6 months and I'm not sure what else to do to get through it. I'm utterly lost and hopeless.

miss him - Jessica - Dec 21st 2008
My husband left my children and I for another woman 10 days ago.  I sometimes feel like I am in a fog - like there's no hope - there's never going to be an end to the pain. During the day most of the time I am fine since the kids are with me. The nights are the worst. My only hope is the Lord - I cry out to Him all the time. It hurts so much. The only thing that I have found alot of relief in is going to the car and screaming and crying.  Someone tell me this will stop hurting one day.

It will take time - Cindy - Dec 18th 2008

I lost my dad in September.  We were very close too and I helped take care of him.  I too thought I would never get over his death.  In a way, I don't think you ever get over it. 

I developed anxiety after his passing, basically about myself and confronting my own mortality.  I think this is a way to distract myself from thinking about my dad's last days. 

Believe me that one day you'll wake up and it won't be the first thing you think about.  It's taken me at least 10 weeks to get to that point, but now I wake up with gratitude for the day.

I see a therapist and I'm taking supplements for depression.  I can't believe that I won't have my dad at the dinner table at Christmas.  I never thought he would die; in fact, I never thought anyone would die and now I feel like it's all around me.

However, I'm told there will come a day where life will feel normal again.  So, with that hope, I'm hanging in there.

Thank You So Much - Mike Slo - Dec 17th 2008

Elisha -

            Thank you so much for this. On Thanksgiving my 59 year old mother passed away. She was my everything, I seen her twice a day, talked to her about 100 a day. We were extremely close (not to mention I am the "Baby") and I was closer to her than any other of my siblings (she told me this all the time and thanked me). Suffice to say I have been having a horrible and difficult time getting passed this. I break down daily, for no reason. I have never had to cope with a death this close before (Thank God) and I am not really a god fearing man (Agnostic) so I do not have that to fall back on either.

There is just so much I lost with her and regret. I have lost my best friend, my childrens grandmother, my babysitter,  my ear and so much more. It seems like this will never pass, but I have made a little progress.

I stumbled across your article and I am glad I did. Thank you for your insight and advice.


Mike Slo

ill never - - Dec 16th 2008
i'll never get over my mothers death--Will

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