Mental Health Moment

Today’s Topic: Grief During the Holidays

Navigating the Holidays when your heart is hurting or you are grieving is not an easy task.

It is especially challenging when a spouse or family member has passed away.

For most people the holidays are a time when immediate and extended family gather together and celebrate together. Traditions are created and special memories are made. Family and friends go above and beyond making special plans and purchasing just the right gifts for one another. Feelings of joy and excitement fill the air.

But when there has been a death in the family, the holidays can be difficult, challenging, even painful. Grief is unique to each individual. Each family member will experience and navigate their grief and loss differently. Processing the grief and healing can take time. Sometimes it takes lots of time.

For some families navigating the very first Thanksgiving or Christmas without the cherished love one can be just as difficult as planning the funeral or saying good bye to their loved one. To make it through the holiday season and keep all the family members talking to each other can seem impossible. But it can be done successfully.

You might be asking how is that possible. Well, it takes communication and negotiation. Most families find the best thing to do that first holiday is to do something completely different than what has been done in the past. Some families find moving the holiday celebration to another location helps. Some families find going out of town helps. Many find that to survive the first Thanksgiving or first Christmas without their loved one they need small and intimate gatherings. Some individuals need people around them, often more than ever before and will plan bigger more elaborate festivities.  Others find the need to do everything the same as it has always been done to honor their loved one. Other families find creating new traditions helps them move forward.

The important thing is for all of the family members to make the plans together.

It is critical for family members to TALK to each other and not make assumptions as to what someone might be thinking or feeling. It is important for each person to discuss how they are feeling about the holidays and then to actively listen to everyone’s response.

Patience is necessary, too. Be patient with yourself and with each of your family members throughout the entire grieving process. Grief is unpredictable. Grief is not something we can control. Grief does not respond to time limits. Grief can hit at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways. It may be a specific smell or a certain food that brings tears to your eyes. It may be a song or a joke. Whatever it is the memories and the emotions flood in.

Each year after a losing a loved one, take time to think about what you need personally to make it through the holiday season. What do you need as a precious child of God? Perhaps you need time to read and meditate on verses about healing and comfort.

I Corinthians 1: 3 & 4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”

Perhaps you need time to journal.  Maybe you need a coffee date or a five-mile run with a supportive understanding friend. One year you may want to look at pictures and talk about all the memories that were made with your loved one. Listening to praise and worship music maybe what is needed to remember God is faithful.  It is important to remind ourselves that God is our Jehovah Jirah the God who provides and Jehovah Rapha the God who heals.

When it comes to navigating grief and navigating the holidays there is no one right way, nor is there one right answer. Each of us have to find our own way and our own path. Inviting God into the healing process and into the grief journey is the best first step. The holidays become easier to navigate with God’s help. When you ask God how he wants you and your family to spend the holidays and where he wants you and your family to spend the holidays it becomes a game changer.

Joy Milner

Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

Want to chat more about this?

The counselors at The Christian Counseling Center at MorningStar provides faith based Christian counseling in Tampa and surrounding cities. We have counselors who specialize in all stages of life, including children counseling, teen counseling, marriage counseling, and individual counseling for various struggles such as anxiety, trauma, grief, narcissism and more. More information can be found on our website at

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