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Grief at the Holidays

The “year of firsts” can be one of the most painful parts of the path of grief. The “year of firsts” is all of those first special occasions without your loved one: birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and… The Holidays.

The internet is full of articles and advice about what you should or shouldn’t do to get through The Holidays. Well-meaning friends and family will put in their two cents’ worth as well. Some of this advice can be very helpful while others seem like they don’t apply at all to your situation and feelings.

How do you know which pieces of advice to follow and which to let go? The key is to always do what you need to do. Give each piece of advice the “gut test.” When a suggestion comes your way, ask yourself, “Does this feel right to me? What does my gut say?” For example, one idea you might find in an online article is to set a place setting at the holiday dinner for your loved one. What is your immediate, gut-level reaction to this? Is it “Oh, that would be wonderful!” or, “That would be too hard for me right now…”? Go with your first response and know it is the best thing for you to do right now.

Maybe you need more time to think about the suggestion. That’s okay. It’s possible that any decision-making is just too overwhelming right now and you feel like just hunkering down and taking care of yourself. Guess what? That’s okay, too.

Remember, this journey of grief is your journey, not that of anyone else. While many in your support system will want to help with the best of intentions, it is really about you doing what you need to do. And this is especially true at The Holidays when so many of your friends and family will be concerned about you and reminders of your loved one abound.

If you feel like it, you can look at some of my other resources and suggestions on my website to get through this part of the path during The Holidays. If not, just know that anything you do this year to honor yourself, your grief, and your loved one is okay.*

I hope you do what you need to do to take care of yourself this year.


*The only things that aren’t okay are any actions that would harm yourself or others. If you have feelings like this, please call your therapist, a helpline, or 911.


Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.