“Happy holidays!”  You hear it everywhere around you.  Christmas lights, Christmas music, and holiday shoppers fill your senses.  For some the season is “merry and bright,” but for those that are grieving, the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries may be some of the most difficult times.

How do people manage to make sense and meaning of life during days filled with pain and memories of what used to be? Even those that aren’t grieving often feel the pressure of trying to meet holiday deadlines and attend holiday gatherings.  People that are in the midst of grief often feel overwhelmed at these times, which can intensify their sadness.

Three tips can help ease these difficult times: plan ahead, accept the pain and grief that exist, and find new ways to celebrate.

Sometimes, simple changes in routines can reduce stress and help make the holidays easier after the loss of a loved one. Phil McBrien, a Spiritual Counselor at Willamette Valley Hospice, suggests to plan ahead by making a list of questions to address the holidays, which can help make difficult days more meaningful:

What do you want to do during the holidays? What don’t you want to do? What haven’t you tried before?

It’s important to think about the emotional roller coaster that may accompany holidays and events such as birthdays and anniversaries. Some experts suggest that we work to accept the idea that pain and grief are likely to be amplified on these days, when there are reminders of happier times with loved ones all around. Planning ahead and realistically accepting that these days will be very different can allow people to find creative ways to bring more meaning into their lives.

Edna Ann Shelton, a Willamette Valley Hospice volunteer, had children who were very young when she was widowed.  Christmas was just too painful to celebrate in their traditional way, so they all decided to go to a movie together instead. Another widow and her children volunteered to work in a soup kitchen at the holidays to create new memories and traditions, as well as help others.

Holidays and special days may be very painful and difficult to face, but following tips like these can help people that are grieving to find new meaning and bring them closer to those who are still very much a part of their lives.

Grief resources are available in our community. Visit for a complete list of free support groups and activities for those who are grieving.

 Jan DuPont, LCSW, is a bereavement counselor.