That time of year has found us once again.

Everywhere we turn we see the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays.

Stores fill their aisles with holiday decorations and pine tree scents. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks rolled out their festive holiday cups. Radio stations have been playing holiday tunes for weeks now. Social media is filled with posts of families posing for their holiday greeting cards in fields filled with Christmas trees. 

After everything this year has brought us, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and lean into the holidays. Right?

Wrong.

For so many of us, these winter holidays are hard and nothing short of heartbreaking.

This time of year, more than any other time of year, is when all the wounds of grief start to open up, memories flood to the surface of grievers’ minds, and the pain of losing someone we love is more palpable than ever. 

Everywhere they turn, people who have lost loved ones are reminded those special people will not be with them this holiday season.

There will be no gifts for them.

They will not be seated at their holiday tables.

They will not make their famous apple pies or green bean casseroles.

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They won’t participate in their family’s matching pajamas traditions.

They won’t be there to help wrap presents or sign holiday cards.

Death has left an unimaginable hole in their lives and the holiday season amplifies it almost infinitely.

You probably know people who are hurting like this right now. They are your friends, your family members, your co-workers, and your neighbors. Maybe you are the person who is hurting right now. Maybe it’s all you can do to hold on each day as these cold, long nights and holiday cheer all around create a deep, dark sadness for you. 

My friend, keep holding on. You will make it through these hard days. These challenging times can be made a little less painful by leaning into a few core truths. 

It’s OK To Include Your Loved One in the Holidays

So often our society sends us subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages to find closure, let go, or move on following a loss. 

To put it nicely — that’s a bunch of nonsense.

You don’t need to let go of your loved one after their death. You should find new ways to hold onto them, treasure your memories of them, and find new ways to feel connected to them. 

It is OK to find a way to honor your loved one and include their memory in your holiday season. Perhaps there is a special ornament to hang on your tree or you can light a candle each night in their memory. Maybe you could volunteer to feed the homeless, sponsor a family in need, or host a toy drive. Cook that favorite dish of theirs. Wear those earrings they gave you. 

Don’t try to forget them this season. Instead, remember them. Talk about them. Share their memory with others.

Feeling Your Feelings is Normal and Healthy

This time of year, more than any other time of year, can make those of us who are grieving feel like we are on an emotional roller coaster. Suddenly that sweet little Santa figurine that used to make us smile sends us into a fit of sobbing. That Christmas movie we always used to love suddenly makes us feel angry and jealous. 

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These feelings are normal. There is nothing wrong with you — you are grieving. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to express some anger, take up kickboxing or scream into a pillow. 

Seriously. Let out your emotions.

If you try to bottle up all of your feelings, they probably will escape at the most inopportune times — like when your child spills his glass of apple juice, someone cuts you off on the highway, or that lady in front of you tries to sneak 13 items into the 12 items or less express-line at the grocery store.

Reaching Out To Your Support Network is Not a Sign of Weakness

For many people, their support networks kick into hyper-drive following a loss. Phone calls, texts, visits, casseroles, and cards pour in almost non-stop immediately following the death.

But after the funeral, those types of support can suddenly come to a crashing halt. Do people suddenly stop caring? No.

Many people are uncomfortable around grief and simply don’t know what to say, what to do, or how to act. So, they avoid it.

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Don’t be afraid to tell your support network what you need. It’s OK to ask for specific things like invitations to social events, regular phone calls, a visit, staying away for a while, and even practical help with things like errands and child care.

In most cases, your support network will be delighted to have been given a specific way to be useful and supportive for you.

You Must Be Kind To Yourself

Check yourself right now. Do you have some negative self-talk swirling around in your brain? Are you judging yourself for what you are feeling and how you are expressing those feelings? 

Be kind and understanding to yourself.

Grief doesn’t go away. It’s always there inside you. You carry it around with you and sometimes it’s heavier than other times. It’s normal, and it’s OK to struggle with the weight of that grief. Recognize that it is normal for this time of year to be more painful and challenging.

This is a good time of year to try to look for the things and people that bring you hope. Do things that make you feel good and nurture yourself. Yoga. Walk. Exercise. Journal. Read. Play music. Listen to music. Start therapy. Attend a support group.

Above all, remember you are human and deserve compassion — especially from yourself. 

Try asking yourself these 25 self care questions every day.

Jenni Brennan

Jenni Brennan, LICSW is an author, podcaster, college professor, therapist, and mother. Her work centers around the topics of grief, health and wellness, relationships, and parenting.