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5 Steps to Survive the Holidays after Loss

November 27, 2021

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Welcome to my blog. I'm Rachel and I'm glad you're here. If your heart is hurting after loss, I want to help you heal. 

Hi, I'm The Grief Gal


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Loss changes everything, including the holidays.

Facing the holidays while grieving can be terrifying. I remember the dread I felt as the holidays approached after Aubrey and Ellie died. I wasn’t sure I could take more pain on my already broken heart but didn’t have a clue how to prepare myself for the triggers and heartache brought on by the first Thanksgiving and Christmas after loss.

I felt helpless. Maybe you can relate?

The thought of two empty highchairs at Thanksgiving and two adorable Christmas outfits with no one to wear them was just too much. I hated it. I hated that they were gone and I hated that the holidays felt ruined forever.

Before Aubrey and Ellie died, I loved the holidays. I looked forward to them every year. I didn’t want to lose the holidays too but I didn’t know how to create an experience that didn’t feel tainted by my pain and haunted by my losses. It was hard for me to see that the holidays could ever be enjoyable again.

I decided not to give up, especially since I had a three-year-old who deserved happy holiday memories. I didn’t have the faintest idea what to do next, but I knew I had to try. No just for my son, but for my heart too. I wanted to restore holiday joy for myself. It mattered to me to get the holidays back after loss.

It’s been thirteen years since I experience my first holiday season after loss and I have good news, I did learn how to restore the full joy of the holidays to my life.

I didn’t think it was possible, but with the right tools, it absolutely is.

I want to share with you what I’ve learned so that if you want to restore joy to your holiday season after loss, you can and you can do it without as much trial and error as I experienced.

Whether your loss is recent or was decades ago, it is never too late to provide your heart with what it needs to step into life again after loss. The holidays don’t have to heap more pain on your already broken heart. Healing is possible and the holidays can be whatever you want them to be. Losing your loved one does not mean you have to lose the holidays too.

Here are the 5 steps I used to transform my holiday season from dreadful to joyful after loss.

Lesson 1: Accept that the holidays are going to be different after loss, but different doesn’t have to mean terrible.

It’s important to adjust your expectations of the holidays after loss.

Life after loss will never be the same as life before loss, but that doesn’t mean the only kind of different it can be is the miserable kind.

Healing after loss is about recognizing that you cannot control all the events in your life, but you can control how you will respond to those events. I always tell my clients that although they will never be the same person they used to be, they can be the person they want to be.  

This applies to your post-loss holiday experience too. The holidays after loss will never be the same as the holidays before loss, but you get to decide what they become. You can create a meaningful new holiday experience if you want to.

If this is your first holiday season since your loss, don’t expect to redeem the holidays in one fell swoop. The first year is by far the most difficult but remember your first holiday season after loss is not a reflection of how all your holidays will feel.  You can build a new holiday experience one holiday at a time.

In other words, accept that this holiday season is going to be different but refuse to believe that this holiday season is EVERY holiday season for the rest of your life. Let’s take one holiday season at a time, okay? It get’s easier, I promise.

Lesson 2: Amp up your self-care during the holidays.

When you are grieving you cannot afford to lighten up on or ignore your self-care routine at all, especially during the holidays.

It’s never been more important to make sure you are paying attention to your most basic needs. Your nutrition, hydration, sleep, restorative exercise routine, and grief support supplements need to be on point.

This means:

  • Guard your sleep and be mindful of not overextending yourself with holiday activities.
  • Have lots of broth and soup on hand to nourish your physical and emotional well-being.
  • Make sure to take extra Vitamin C and Zinc to support your immune system.
  • Support your adrenal function with a good adrenal support supplement.
  • Don’t over-exercise.
  • Stay warm with extra layers, hot teas, and warm baths.

Also be mindful of your consumption of sugar, alcohol, and seasonal coffee drinks during this time.

Sugar is hard on your adrenals, an organ in your body already over-taxed and depleted by your grief. It also depletes the minerals you need in your body for mood stability.

Alcohol robs your body of needed vitamins and minerals, degrades the quality of your sleep, and is a depressant. It is wise to eliminate or at the very least lessen your alcohol intake during this emotional time.

Caffeine is also adrenal-depleting and too much of it will undermine your physical and emotional coping mechanisms, deplete you of vitamins and minerals, and dehydrate you. Drink green or herbal tea instead to support your health and well-being during the holiday season. Peppermint tea with a little milk in it is one of my favorite holiday drinks.

Lesson 3: Give yourself permission to say no to people, events, activities, and traditions (and also give yourself permission to say yes).

The holidays can be exhausting even if you are not grieving, so if you have experienced a recent loss, it is so important to give yourself permission to set boundaries and say no to the people, events, activities, and traditions that will leave you overwhelmed, exhausted, and triggered.

It is ok to opt out of things that you just don’t feel up to. Protecting your emotional energy is key. Don’t allow guilt or obligation to make you say yes to something you want to say no to. It’s okay to set new boundaries this year, and next year if you feel differently, you can make new choices.

It’s also ok to say yes to things too. If you want to participate in an event or tradition that is meaningful to you, go ahead. You don’t have to say no to everything just because you are grieving. You get to decide what is best for your heart and sometimes taking care of you heart means saying no, but other times it means saying yes. There is no right or wrong answer. Do what is best for you.

Lesson 4: If happiness sneaks in, it’s ok. It doesn’t mean you don’t love who you lost.

Sometimes, after loss, the only thing more painful than our sadness is our happiness.

Feeling joy, peace, or happiness after losing a loved one can feel like the ultimate betrayal. We mistakenly believe the only way to show others how much we loved the one we lost, and how much it hurt to lose them, is to be in pain.

I want to assure you that your loved one is honored more in your healing than they ever could be in your hurting so if you find yourself smiling or enjoying yourself unexpectedly during the holiday, even for just a moment, don’t feel bad.

Your joy is not evidence of forgetting about your loved one or getting over the loss. It’s actually your love taking on another form.

Just like it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to be happy too. Give yourself permission to feel all your feelings with freedom and without judgement. When you are sad, be sad, but when happiness sneaks in, that’s ok too.

Lesson 5: Create a few holiday traditions that honor your lost loved one in intentional and beautiful ways.

One of my favorite things about the holidays now are the ways I’ve woven Aubrey and Ellie’s memories into my holiday traditions and decorations.

For example, I hang stockings for them every Christmas and a few years ago I bought everyone in the family a set of copper ornaments to hang on their tree each year in memory of my girls. The ornaments are not obvious, a stranger would never know they are for Aubrey and Ellie, but those closest to me who knew and loved my girls know what they represent and that’s what matters to me. It’s a sweet tradition we all participate in every year.

You can get very creative with the ways you weave your loved one’s memory into your holidays. It has given me great peace to know my girls are represented during the holidays even if they can’t be here to represent themselves.

Want to learn more? Download this free grief guide:

How have you found ways to restore joy to your holidays after loss? Send me an email at rachel@thegriefgal.com.

I’d love to know.

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I'm Rachel, The Grief Gal

Life After Loss Coach & Holistic Grief Support specialist

Helping people heal after loss is my passion. After my baby girls died, I promised them I'd learn how to heal my heart and share what I learned with everyone who wanted to heal too. After more than a decade of learning, healing, and living after loss, I'm making good on my promise...

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