Grief During the Holidays and Other Special Days

Family celebrations are especially difficult after the death of a loved one. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days often heighten the sense of loss, and this may leave family members and well-meaning friends at a loss as they try to cope with racing emotions.

As special occasions approach, it is common for families to experience fear and trepidation. Some may want to avoid the whole experience as they feel pressure regarding expectations surrounding a traditional time of celebration. Others have difficulty even talking about an upcoming event.

It is usually most helpful for the family to decide together how a special occasion should be handled, even if it is not to be celebrated in a traditional fashion. And many families find a way to recognize the loved one sometime during the celebration. A family get-together is important, because it affirms that life goes on -- and life as a family continues -- even in times of grief. But each family member may feel differently during special celebrations.

We need to recognize that, while many families will choose to spend time together, children and adults may need some time alone or with friends outside the family.

Extended family members and friends often want to know in advance what plans the family have decided upon. Help them understand that decisions -- even unconventional ones -- are made in light of what is best for the family. Let others know how they can help and that they can expect the family to experience periods of sadness during special times.

Family members, too, can do themselves a favor by having realistic expectations of special celebrations. Although special occasions and holidays can be difficult, being open to family discussions of plans and alternate plans, letting others know of the plans, and managing expectations are effective means to a meaningful celebration.