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Managing Your Grief During the Holidays

November 22, 2011

Managing Your Grief During the Holidays

Tips for dealing with that first holiday period without a loved one 


GREENFIELD – At this time of year, a common question from individuals who are experiencing grief is, “How will I get through the holidays?”


 The first of each anniversary, birthday and special family occasion is always quite difficult for those grieving.  “The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving, seems to be the most difficult,” said Vicki Sutton, LICSW, oncology social worker, Baystate Franklin Medical Center.


“The first step in planning for the approaching holidays is acknowledging your grief, and anticipating the parts of the holiday which may loom most difficult,” Sutton noted.  “Allowing emotions to be expressed is helpful. Many times it’s the anticipation of the holidays that can create more stress than the holidays themselves. Being prepared can help you deal with these feelings.” 


Sutton acknowledged that there is really no one right way to deal with the holidays, but you can begin by making decisions that are comfortable for you and your family.  Keep in mind that each person deals with grief in his or her own way, and try to allow time to talk with family members about their thoughts and concerns as the days draw near.  “Do you want to continue traditions, start new ones, or develop a combination of both? Think about whether – or how much -- you want to decorate this year. Consider going light on gift shopping or asking someone to help with it and perhaps giving to a charity in your loved ones memory instead.  Light a candle as a quiet symbol of your loved ones presence.” 


It is also important to plan self-care activities that will feed your mind, body and spirit. Give yourself permission to “take care of yourself.”  And don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed during the holidays.  “The goal is to get through them with the least amount of emotional upheaval by planning ahead,” Sutton added.


Sutton, who runs several support groups at Baystate Franklin, is an advocate for joining a holiday specific bereavement support group, especially if you are facing the first holiday season without your loved one.  “In a group, you are with a community of people sharing their feelings and concerns, and around you are those who can empathize with what you’re going through,” said Sutton.  “Being with others in a group support setting can strengthen you and give you hope that you will ‘survive’ the holidays.”

Free workshops such as “Grieving through the Holidays” and “Holiday Memorial Candle Making” offered each year by Hospice of Franklin County are invaluable to many who attend. The joining of those grieving the loss of a loved one, learning strategies together for coping with grief, discussing and making tentative holiday plans, and creating a candle in memory of your loved one can only enhance the coping skills needed to make your way through these days ahead.  Call 413-774-2400 or visit for more information on the Hospice groups.


If you have experienced prolonged grief and it is interfering with your ability to function, it may be helpful for you to seek out a counselor who offers bereavement counseling. Professional bereavement counselors can offer support and guidance throughout the grieving process, and can help you manage any distressing feelings that you may be experiencing.


For more information on Baystate Franklin Medical Center, visit