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Dealing with Loss and Grief During the Holidays

Dr. Drew's Lifechanger and Psychotherapist Joanne Diaz-Koegl says when we are grieving, the jolly holidays can be a painful reminder of the joy and warmth, love and excitement we used to share at this time of year, before he or she was gone. 

The holidays still rush on; others make plans, unaware of our broken hearts. Friends go out of their way to include us in their holiday cheer, but few can understand how numb we really are. There are no special privileges or special parking places for those with pain. And watching the celebration of others, only leaves us feeling more isolated.

But grieving over the loss of a loved one is a necessary and natural process. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and no two people do it the same. Time and balance are important components. The first few years are usually the most difficult, but even years later, the holidays may never again mean what they used to.

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Tradition plays a special role in celebrating so many moments between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Traditional times you have shared underscore the significance of the loss… ”Dad always hung Christmas lights while mom cooked Thanksgiving dinner.”

The full sense of loss never occurs all at once. The onset of the holiday season often makes us realize how much our lives have been changed by the loss. Perhaps your major need is to acknowledge and work to survive the naturalness of the “holiday grief.” The holidays can become a time of reflection and peace, a time to cherish the gift your loved one has been -- and continues to be -- in the life of your family.

While there are no simple guidelines that will make it easy to cope with grief during the holiday season, try these tips to help make your personal experience more tolerable:

Be Patient and Realistic

Plan ahead so you are not overwhelmed by responsibilities at the last moment. When you are grieving, it is difficult to make decisions, so make lists. Prioritize things. Decide what is important to you this holiday season, and scratch the rest off of the list for this year. You can always add things back in the years to come.

Listen Within

Listen to your heart and acknowledge your limits. Become aware of your needs and express them to family and friends with whom you plan to spend the holidays.


Encourage others to share their feelings, too, so that everyone affected by the death of your loved one has an opportunity to express his or her wishes about holiday plans.

Say No

Remember it is okay to say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation that comes your way. Do what you can this holiday season, and let it be sufficient. Don’t try to tackle all the decorations, just decorate a small area. There is nothing wrong with simplicity.

Check out this Lifechanger exercise to Learn How to Say NO

Live a Little

Don’t deny yourself the pleasures of good food and companionship out of sense of obligation to the deceased. Remember that your loved one would want to see you smiling, happy, and surrounded by those you hold dear.

Adapt Cherished Traditions

When grief and loss overwhelm us at the holidays, we are tempted to scrap the whole thing, to do absolutely nothing. But you can keep traditions alive in ways that make sense, given your new reality. If the fact that you are not buying a gift for your departed loved one this year saddens you, buy a simple gift that you know he or she would have liked and give it to someone who otherwise would not have a gift. If you are alone this year as a result of your loss, find a way to share a part of the holidays with others. Visit a soup kitchen or shelter and be of service to someone who has no one.

Tears and Laughter

Allow the tears to come, but look for joy amid the pain. As you unpack and sift through holiday decorations, understand that along with warm, loving memories, you will be also be unpacking some heartache. Don’t deny yourself the gift of healing tears. You may decide you can not bring yourself to see the previous ornaments you shared and may purchase new ones.

Be patient and know that every process, even grief, has an ending. People want us to get over the loss, and though we will never fully get over our loss, we can find a place of acceptance. We hurt deeply because we were blessed to have the capacity to love that way. In fact, I don’t think I will ever want to get over it. There is a difference between unresolved grief and remembering. Your life, my life, will not be the same again, but it can be good again as we enter yet another new phase of life. To acknowledge and move toward these feelings is healthier than attempting to repress or deny them.

Remember… don’t let anyone take away your grief during the holidays. Try to love yourself and allow yourself to be embraced by caring, compassionate people.

Worried about packing on the pounds this holiday season? Here’s how you can Thrive Through the “Fat Season.”

For more life-changing information watch Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers everyday at 3 and 3:30 PM on the CW. Find out what channel it’s on in your area.

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