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The first holiday without a loved one: coping with grief and loss

The holiday season can be a difficult time if you’ve lost someone. And the first holiday without a loved one can be especially challenging, as you have to navigate how to spend the time without them. There are different ways to cope during the holidays, as everyone grieves differently. We’ve gathered some ideas that might make things easier and help you grieve in a healthy way during this period.

How to spend the holidays after the loss of a loved one

If you usually spend your holidays with the person you lost, figuring out how to spend it without them can be difficult. You can choose to carry on old traditions or start new ones — do whatever feels best for you and your healing journey. 

1. Carry on with your usual traditions

Some people find comfort in celebrating how they normally would. It feels familiar and can help you feel closer to your lost loved one by reminding you of happy holidays spent together. If you usually have a big gathering with family or friends, then seeing them might help you get through this tough time. People coming together to support one another often creates a comforting sense of solidarity.

2. Create new holiday rituals

Perhaps it doesn’t feel right to carry on as before. Instead, you could create new holiday traditions and rituals for this new phase of life. These new traditions can include honoring the person you’ve lost, for example, by visiting their grave or memorial, saying a prayer for them, or lighting candles in their memory. That way, you can still remember them as you adjust to life and holidays without them. These ways to honor a loved one might give you some ideas for new rituals.

3. Forgo holiday celebrations

Sometimes, celebrating the holidays after the loss of a loved one is simply too painful. Particularly on the first holiday without a loved one, you might prefer not to celebrate. You could book a trip or just spend time at home for a period of quiet reflection. However, just because you’re not celebrating the holidays doesn’t mean you have to be isolated. Having people around for support is important when you’re grieving. Let people know that you won’t be celebrating, but you’d still like to see them.

Ways to cope with grief during the holidays

However you decide to spend the holidays, you should still allow yourself to grieve in a healthy way. Accept that things will be different this year, and prioritize looking after yourself. Here are some tips for getting through your first holiday without a loved one.

1. Let yourself feel sad

Don’t feel pressure to try and be cheerful just because this is a celebratory time of year. The holidays are a difficult time for people, and it’s perfectly natural to struggle emotionally. Trying to hold in your feelings can make you feel worse, so give yourself permission to cry and feel sad if you need to.

2. Don’t feel guilty for experiencing joy

If you do find yourself enjoying the holidays or sharing joyful moments with friends and family, don’t feel guilty. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care or you’re forgetting about the person you’ve lost. As humans, we can feel a whole spectrum of emotions on any given day, and you still deserve to feel moments of joy and happiness when you’re experiencing grief.

3. Take time if you need it

During the holidays, we’re often around a lot of people, and all the chatter and obligations can be overwhelming. If you’re feeling emotional or anxious, find a quiet room or go outside and get some fresh air. This can help you feel more grounded and give you some respite from social interaction. If you’re out, it’s also perfectly acceptable to head home for a while if you need some downtime.

4. Talk to people about how you’re feeling

Lean on the other people in your life to help you get through the holidays. Don’t feel afraid to bring up your grief just because it’s meant to be a happy time. The people in your life will want to be there to support you, and talking about your emotions is an important way to process them. It can also help bring you closer to others who’ve been affected by the loss. While it can be difficult to know what to say about the first holiday without a loved one, you’ll probably find that talking about it with other family members will make you feel more connected and supported.

5. Ask for help if you need it

Make sure to reach out for help if you need it. Arranging gifts, food, and travel around the holidays can be stressful and is particularly overwhelming if you’re grieving. Ask a friend or neighbor if they can help you out with things like groceries, gifts, and planning.

6. Explore grief counseling

Friends and family can be a great support, but if you’re struggling, then consider talking to a mental health professional too. Grief counseling gives you a safe, neutral space to process your feelings and gives you strategies to help cope with your emotions.

Be kind to yourself

The main thing to remember during your first holiday after losing a loved one is to be kind to yourself. Don’t try and force yourself to feel or act a certain way. Simply prioritize looking after yourself and find your own way to get through the holidays. 

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