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Ways to cope with grief during the holiday season

Chris and Tom Luther
Posted at 12:57 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 12:57:33-05

The holiday season is when we celebrate family, love, and togetherness, but many families are not whole this time of the year.

The pandemic has led to many more open seats at dinner tables across the country and it can make the holiday season difficult, so we wanted to check in with grief counselor Tammy Gustafson to see what grieving families can do.

Make room for whatever emotions arise. “Create space and honor that emotion,” says Gustafson. “You don’t need to shame it. You don’t need to get rid of it. Even the difficult ones like sadness or pain. Just create that space and take a moment to say, ‘OK, I honor the fact that I feel this way, and this is really a testament to how deep my connection was to this person.’”

Don’t pressure yourself. “Be gentle with yourself,” says Gustafson. “Know there will be triggers and that’s OK. Lower your bar, lower your expectations. This does not have to be the perfect holiday.”

Don’t guilt yourself for feeling happiness. “Try and enjoy it,” says Gustafson. “You don’t have to feel guilty if you feel happy. Grief does resurface at times, and I think it can take us by surprise even when we think we’ve moved past it. And that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you aren’t healing.”

Spend time talking about the person you lost. “It’s OK if you’re not happy all the time,” says Gustafson. “The happiness and the sadness can go hand in hand. And if you create some space to reflect, to think about the good times, also to cry together. That can be honoring and free the space so you don’t feel like you have to fight it."

Lean on those close to you. “Allow people to feel whatever it is,” says Gustafson. “I think sometimes we get a little uncomfortable when other people are having emotions, particularly crying. Don’t shut it down. Ask for what you need.”