Today my guest blogger is Dr. Debra Holland, an author of wonderful stories such as Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky, and a psychologist who deals with grief and trauma.  This time of the year many of us are looking forward to the holidays.  But not everyone does.  I'm really pleased that today Debra is going to talk about how to cope with grief during the holidays.  I hope that some of the readers who may be reticent about the coming holidays will find her post and her book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving helpful.

BIO: Dr. Holland is a popular psychotherapist, consultant, and speaker on the topics of communication difficulties, relationships, stress, and dealing with difficult people.  She is the author of 5 books: the non-fiction book The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, and 4 fiction novels that include Wild Montana Sky, Starry Montana Sky, Sower of Dreams and Reaper of Dreams.


Tis the season to be jolly, to deck the halls, to experience great joy with family and friends. Yet for some people, this holiday season may be a time of sadness, of grieving because of the loss of a loved one due to death or a broken relationship, the loss of a job, the lack of money to travel to be with family, the loss of a home, or the many other reasons people can feel pain during the holidays. Sometimes the grief is new and raw, other times, it’s old and familiar, although no less painful.

The contrast between the outward trappings of the holidays and your inner feelings of grief can be so great that people may not know how to get through the holidays. Many of their friends and family may not know how to support them.

People often avoid others who are grieving because they don’t know what to say or do to help. If you want to support someone who’s grieving, ask how best to comfort him. Does he want company? To talk about his loss to someone who will just listen?

Sometime the worst part of the holidays is the dread leading up to them. The actual day might not be as bad as you feared, and might, instead, be a good day—or at least parts of it are. A loss can make you focus on and feel grateful for who and what you do have. Therefore, it’s important to take some time during a holiday to appreciate the people who care about you.

Follow your intuition about how to celebrate the holidays. Don’t let someone else (no matter how well meaning) tell you what to do. Whether you celebrate or not, go away or stay home, simplify or go all out, should be up to you (although you need to take into consideration the needs of other family members.)

Have a family meeting to discuss traditions, finances, duties, and feelings. Given the limitations of time, energy, and money, figure out what will bring the most peace and satisfaction to all involved. Divvy up what each person will do.

Some family members might want to be part of a crowd because they don’t want to feel alone. Others will want some quiet time on the holiday. Neither choice is right or wrong. The personal preference needs to be respected. So if someone wants to go to her room or take a solitary walk in the midst of the chaos, then respect that. Or just invite friends and family over for a short time.

If you’re grieving, let people know ahead of time how you think you’ll be feeling and how they can best support you. For example, if you’re not up to cooking a big dinner, but would still like to get together, have everyone bring a dish. If you can only tolerate others for an hour instead of the whole day like normal, be clear about the time boundaries. Talk about how you’d like people to support you if you’re emotional. For example, do they give you a hug, pretend not to notice the tears running down your cheeks, or talk to you about shared memories?

Find ways to help others. No matter how much pain you’re in, giving to others can lift your spirits for a while, or at least give you a feeling of purpose. Sometimes seeing the plight of others put your troubles in perspective.

Even if you’re scraping the bottom of the financial barrel, you can still be of service. You help an elderly person put up (and take down) his or her holiday decorations, serve food at a soup kitchen, babysit a neighbor’s children so she can go Christmas shopping, clean out your closet and take your unneeded clothes and shoes to a shelter or other charitable organization. Shovel the snow from the walkway of an elderly or disabled person so he or she can get out. Visit a convalescent home or a veteran’s hospital to visit those who are often forgotten during the holiday.

Avoid excess alcohol. Eat fairly healthy. (It’s almost impossible to eat completely healthy. Besides you’d miss out on some of the fun.) Exercise, even if it’s going for a walk. Get as much sleep as possible. Take a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement and extra vitamin C and D to keep your immune system strong. Take an Omega three supplement, such as Krill or Salmon oil to keep your brain healthy. Although this is good advice for everyone during the holidays, it’s especially important for those who grieve.

What other ways do you know of to take care of yourself during the holidays?

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