Navigating Grief During the Holidays

Today’s blog post is by David J. Roberts, who became a bereaved parent after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer at the age of 18. This article was originally posted on the websites Hello Grief and Open to Hope.

Holly in winterThe pain of grief tends to surface with great intensity during  “milestone” events.  Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are typical events that are associated with our grief journeys. The intensity of grief is usually highest for many during the first year that these milestone events are experienced. However, people will experience pain of varying intensity during these milestone events beyond the first year. There is no timetable to resolve grief and in many cases; journeys are lifelong. Experiencing pain at any time during the process is to be expected.

Under normal circumstances, preparing for any holiday can be stressful as well as tiring. When a loved one dies, completing these holiday tasks become complicated by the intense pain of grief and the physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that accompany it.  Our grief may be so painful that we question whether to celebrate the holidays at all.


Although there are no sure solutions as to how to prepare for the holidays, there are some things that may be helpful:

–         Educate yourself by reading books or articles on grief and attending a lecture on coping with the holidays.

–         Identify strengths or strategies that helped you adjust to previous losses in your life. These may be losses related to death or losses not related to death (e.g., divorce).

–         Try to develop as much support from family and friends as you can. Tell them that the holidays may be emotionally and physically draining for you, and how they can best help you during this time.

–         Allow some time to feel sad. Have a good cry if you need to.

–         Be careful with use of alcohol and medications, either separately or together.

–         Save your energy for the most important things.

–         Delegate! Let others share the workload by preparing food and helping with decorations.

–         If you need quiet time, take it.

–         If you aren’t up to a large family affair, have a scaled down gathering with a few close family members and friends.

Pointsettia FlowerOthers may have difficulty saying the name of your loved one for fear of upsetting you or because they are uncomfortable with their own feelings. You may decide to initiate the discussion of your loved one and may be hesitant to do so because it may be very painful. That is completely understandable, but the pain may be lessened or replaced by joy due to some wonderful shared memories. Plus, we want to say and hear the names of our loved ones.

The anticipation of the holiday season and the days leading up to it may be more stressful than the actual day. Also, if there are certain holiday functions that you don’t have the emotional strength to confront, it is ok to avoid them. Remember, you can grieve as you see fit!

About the Author:

David J. Roberts LMSW, CASAC, became a parent  who experienced the death of a child after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addictions professional and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College, Utica, New York.  Mr. Roberts also developed a topics course on Parental Bereavement issues, and has taught a Death, Dying and Bereavement course for Utica College.  He is a volunteer for Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc, in New Hartford, New York and a member of the All Inclusive Care for Children Coalition.

Dave  presented trainings to members of the Greater Upstate New York Chapter of the Association for Death and Education Counseling in both 2007 and 2009. Dave  also presented workshops at national conferences of The Compassionate Friends, from 2008 through 2011 and at the 2009 , 2011 and 2012 national gatherings of the Bereaved Parents of The USA. Dave was also the opening keynote speaker at the 2011 national gathering of the Bereaved Parents of the USA.

Dave has published articles in Living With Loss Magazine ,Hello Grief, Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, We Need Not Walk Alone, the national magazine of  The Compassionate Friends, The Grief Toolbox and Recovering the Self Journal. He has co-authored two books with Linda Findlay of Mourning Discoveries( One is on navigating grief during the holidays and the other is on pet loss.  

Dave is also a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation(  One of Dave’s articles”My Daughter is Never Far Away” can also be found in the recently published Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing and Loss.   Dave has also appeared on Healing the Grieving Heart and the Ron Villano show.

Dave lives in Whitesboro, New York with his wife of 29 years, Cheri and Jeannine’s two cats, Bootsy and Angel. They have two great sons Dan and Matt, as well.

You can read more of his work here:

2 thoughts on “Navigating Grief During the Holidays”

  1. We lost our son “Chad” 7 years ago in a motorcycle accident. He was 29. I appreciate you taking the time to write and encourage others. When you have lost a child –you feel very isolated no matter how many support groups you go to. You go on–but life is never the same. The hurt is always there. May God bless your work. In Him, Judy Hunter

  2. Hi Judy .Please accept my condolences for the death of your son “Chad” You are right when you say that our lives are never the same after the death of our children. I have been grateful that I have been able to find joy and meaning amidst the sadness of Jeannine’s physical absence through the support of others.
    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my article and for your kind words.
    Wishing you peace.

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