When grief comes to visit for the holidays

lonely man on park bench

I’ve been thinking about several friends in my life who’ve experienced loss of loved ones through tragic circumstances or at much younger ages than you expect to be parted by death. At certain times, such as anniversaries of the death or a birthday, their grief seems to resurface more strongly— even when it’s been years since their loss. This time of year, I also think about people when grief comes to visit for the holidays.

I have such admiration for people who have walked the hard road of grief and continue the quest for the balance between moving on and remembering; or maybe their quest is to just learn to live with the tension between the two. I see reflections on social media or in blog posts that make me weep with them in their continued journey.

With the holidays approaching, I wondered what people do to make it through when the memories resurge and threaten to steal the joy of the present, and decided to find some examples that may be an encouragement to you if you or someone you know are facing the holidays without someone you love.

Clinging to hope

In her blog post on maryloucaskey.com, my friend Mary Lou shared a poignant article about how she is affected by the anniversary of her first husband’s passing—an anniversary that came recently in the midst of the joyful birth of a new grandson. She wrote about dealing with grief over time in a post titled Cling to hope on the anniversary of lossIn this post she also points out that loss is not always from a death, but can be from divorce, broken relationships or other life circumstances.

In the article she shares several suggestions for things you can do when such an anniversary comes each year, such a planning ahead to do an enjoyable activity, recognizing the triggers that may bring emotions to the surface, being intentional about self-care and clinging to God’s Word.

Giving back

When she was 40 years old my friend Nancy lost her husband to a heart attack. From her experience with loss she developed deep compassion for others going through grief. On the first Father’s Day after my father-in-law passed away, we received a beautiful card from her with a gift certificate to Dairy Queen that said she was remembering our family as this day approached and sending happiness our way “because it’s hard not to be happy at Dairy Queen!”

Enlist others in your journey

In an article titled Tips for coping with anniversary reactions in grief, on the blog Grief Healing, the author shares tips similar to Mary Lou’s and also offers a candid discussion on how and why residual grief can be difficult to handle. One suggestion shared that I liked was to let others know about days that are significant to you so they may be able to help and respond as you go through them. This blog also has a recent article that may be helpful, Coping with the holidays: Suggested resources 2015.

Set realistic expectations

It’s not a sign of weakness to grieve and there is no statute of limitations on grief. In an article on psychcentral.com I found a reminder that it’s important to debunk the “one-to-two-year myth” that somehow grief should be over.  The article offers a task-focused model of dealing with grief that may not be helpful in all situations, but there are some interesting perspectives to think about.

Say their name

I remember a Facebook exchange in the past year where on a friend’s wall, someone wrote that she was thinking of my friend on the anniversary of her dad’s death. My friend’s response made me sad: Thank you. I sometimes think I’m the only one who remembers. I found this author’s comments especially helpful in this regard in the article on tomzuba.com titled, At Thanksgiving, say their name. 

Read Psalms

There is perhaps no place where grief is expressed so beautifully and transparently as in the book of Psalms in the Bible. Psalm 42:5 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Perhaps it is our praises and hearts of gratitude that can break through as the best balm for grief.


I want to be more aware of the grieving hearts around me and pray that I will be especially sensitive to others in seasons when grief is likely to be there along with the joy of celebration. Perhaps you and I can take time to let people know we care and we remember with them, too.

Well, that’s where my heart is today, preparing in a little different way for Thanksgiving and the Christmas season that arrives right behind it.

I believe walking on the UpSide means we get to talk about the whole of life, which includes loss. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to share in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Nancy Z.

P.S. Writing about this reminded me of one my really early blog posts on the UpSide that talks about how to reach out to people at the time of loss. Beyond the wreath: 10 things you can do for someone after the loss of a loved one

P.P.S. After this article was posted I saw a link to this beautiful article on Facebook: Grateful and Grieving on Angela Miller’s abedformyheart.com and had to share. It expresses what only one who has known this kind of grief can express.

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