Coping with Grief During the Holidays

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By: Sara Stone, Licensed Social Worker

Fir branch, candle and  Christmas decorationsThis time of year we’re thinking about celebrating the holidays with family and friends. We’re looking to find joy in making memories and partaking in traditions. Sound perfect, right?  Well, not for everyone. How do we cope with grief during the holidays?

Many who are grieving the loss of a loved one can find these holidays and traditions to be a very challenging time. Holidays can often time magnify the loss, and make some of the traditions feel unbearable.  You are not alone if you find yourself dreading an upcoming holiday or worrying about what or how you will make it through.

For each person, the experience can vary a great deal. This is because grief itself is so very personal.  Many feel that holidays are a time when they need to force themselves to cheer up and go with the flow. That is actually the opposite of what one should be doing.  Because the holidays can often time be a trigger of great emotion, much of which we may not be expecting or ready for, it’s important to give yourself permission to work through your grief and not force yourself to do anything you’re not ready for or comfortable with.

By grieving, we work our way through the pain that we feel over our lost loved one. The grief is our internal feelings, while the pain and sadness is what others may see.  It’s okay to talk about your loss, or reflect on it. Take time to journal, or reflect on the holidays and what areas mean most to you. has a few suggestions on ways to cope:saragrief-support-tag

  • Do allow time for your feelings.
  • Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain time in our lives.
  • Do be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
  • Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not service your soul and your loss.
  • Do, in grief, pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often forgotten grievers.

Sometimes the thought of the holiday approaching may be harder for us than when the actual holiday arrives. Some people welcome the ‘change of pace’ and activity that often times comes with the event.

Another point of consideration is that although the holidays may never be the same after the loss of your loved one, it is a time for you to evaluate how you want your holiday to look or feel.  Do you start a new tradition in honor of your loved one?  This may be as simple as;

  • Leaving a chair open at the table or in the space that you celebrate.
  • Starting a journal about your loved one and inviting family to add happy memories.
  • Doing a balloon release or some other reflection activity such as lighting a special candle in their honor during the holiday celebration.
  • One support group member got a small tree and asked all family members to buy an ornament that they felt reminded them of their father/grandfather. Each of them put the ornament on that tree and every year, the tree has a special place during the winter holiday season.


Here at Tri-County Health Care we offer several free, monthly support group meetings to the community, including:

1. Adult Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group

The purpose of this group is to provide a confidential support group for those who have experienced this type of loss to find support, share their story and learn ways to cope. It is open to all adult family members and friends of a loved one who has completed suicide. The groups meets the third Tuesday of the month from 6:30 – 8 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room in the lower level of Tri-County Health Care.

2. Grief Support Group

Anyone who has experienced a loss is invited to the support group. The group’s purpose is to offer understanding, suggestions for coping, support, friendship, and most of all, hope to bereaved adults. They meet the first Tuesday of each month from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room, located in the lower level of Tri-County Health Care in Wadena.

3. Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group

This support group is open to all parents who have lost a child of any age, at any time in their lives. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care.

Sara Stone

Sara Stone

For more information or questions about the support groups offered, please contact the Medical Social Services office (218) 631-5228. To see a list of all monthly support groups offered by TCHC go here:

About the Author: Sara Stone, LSW is the Medical Social Services Manager at Tri-County Health Care. The goal of her department is to provide support, education, referrals and serve as a resource to patients and their families regarding all matters of health and well-being.

Grief and the Holidays

By Guest Blogger: Rachel L. O. Stout, Pastor

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

So, I’m just going to come right out and say it: Andy Williams, you’re full of bologna! This is not, for many, the most wonderful time of the year. Now, I am by no means anti-Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m no Grinch. I love the holiday season: I decorate my home with my family; I play Christmas music in my car, on my computer while I’m working; I bake; I love the time spent with family; and I have the privilege of preparing myself and my congregations for the blessed night of Christmas Eve.


But let’s be honest. It is not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. And that’s okay. For those who grieve (which is just about everyone), the holidays are a glaring reminder of all that has been lost, either in the last year or last years: a child, a spouse, a sibling, a job, a sense of control, home, health, traditions, and so on and so forth. We are more aware of all that was and will never be.

There is something about the way in which we tidy up the holidays that makes our grief all the more apparent and painful. We clean and decorate our homes, we buy special clothes for our kids, attempt beautiful confections we’ve found and pinned on Pinterest, we gather together as family (a feat that is, for some, easier said than done), and we may go to Church. We continue with the established traditions even though they don’t quite feel right. All the while, we are trying desperately to cope with our loss. The confluence of grief and “the most wonderful time of the year” can be chaotic, even disastrous.

It’s important, I think, that we acknowledge that reality, and be okay with it. The holidays will come and go and be what they are. And because of that, it would behoove us all to be a bit kinder and more sensitive to the heartache around and within us. The holidays don’t have to be Andy Williams or Pinterest perfect to be celebrated. We are wonderfully human and messy and so are our holiday gatherings.

As I learn more about that first Thanksgiving, I am amazed at how tension-filled, confusing, and wonderfully exciting it was for those who were a part of it. No one really knew what it would mean to sit down at the table and break bread with those who were different from them. And that first Christmas, well, that was a less than perfect event. Mary gave birth to the son of God without the support of the women in her family or the comfort that home and community would have given her. All of it messy, every single blessed moment. Why would our lives be any different?

So, as a PSA from one human being to another, if we could all just be a little kinder to one another as we go through the upcoming holiday season, that would be a tremendous gift to those for whom the holidays are difficult. While you’re franticly trying to get everything done on your to-do list, remember those whose hearts ache for the ones they love. While you’re receiving family into your home or traveling to be with family, remember those who will be alone. And whether sitting down to a table bursting with food or just a frozen pizza, remember those who will go without.

Upcoming event:
Getting through the holidays can be tough. Join others for an evening of remembering our loved ones who have died. “Getting Through The Holidays” will be held on November 17, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, in Wadena. This is a free community program that starts at 5:30 p.m. and is followed by a meal. The evening is meant to offer support for anyone experiencing the loss of a loved one in their life. Everyone is welcome!

To RSVP, please contact Diane Leaders at or by calling 218-632-1335 or 320-759-1270.

About the author:

Pastor Rachel Stout with her three beautiful children – Ana, Brigid and Soren.

Pastor Rachel Stout with her three beautiful children – Ana, Brigid and Soren.

Rachel Stout serves as Pastor at Our Savour’s Lutheran in Sebeka and Balsamlund in Aldrich. Rachel is married to Ryan Stout (a Pastor too) and is mother to three wonderful kids, Soren (8), Ana (4) and Brigid (2).