Grief and the Holidays: How to Cope and Even Celebrate

For many who’ve lost a loved one, the holidays can be a hard time of year. The last couple of years, it’s been even more of a challenge for those of us who are grieving. I want to share the three questions I use to help me cope — and even celebrate — during the holiday and New Year period.

For a lot of us, the holidays are a hard time when we’ve lost someone, whether we lost them a month ago or years ago. For some of us, it might be our first holiday season without that person, and other times, it might be that we have certain associations with this time of year. Maybe our loved one was ill during a holiday or into that winter season, and at other times, it’s just that we particularly miss that person during the holidays.

Holiday Memories and Traditions When We’re Grieving

During this time of year, there are a lot of traditions. We tend to get together with family, and we just miss having that person here for these celebrations. For instance, the last time I saw my mother was the holidays of 2012. So this time of year is bittersweet for me. There are ways to make it less hard, and I want to share them with you.

You Get to Decide: If and How to Celebrate the Holiday When You’re Grieving

I do want to say that, one, you get to decide how you want to celebrate the holidays, if you want to celebrate them and how you want to show up. If you decide “it’s just too much for me, I don’t want to take part in any of it” that’s up to you. If you’ve always hated the holidays and you think, “you know what, this is just a miserable time of year and I just want to hide” that’s your choice as well.

But if you do want to celebrate more, if you want to reconnect with the holidays, if there are people that you want to be present for, if you are getting together with family or if you have kids, for instance, who are really excited about the holidays and you want to show up in a more present way, I’ve got some suggestions.

My Three Questions: Grief and the Holidays

So the approach I take is really three questions to ask yourself — and really to ideally to journal about, to see what comes up. These questions are:

1. How do you remember the person you’ve lost, maybe especially as it relates to the holidays?

2. How do you WANT to remember the person? and

3. How do you want the person to be remembered?

They sound really similar but for me, there are differences.

Question number 2 (How do you want to remember the person?) tends to be a little more individual. It’s our individual memories.

Question 3 (How do you want the person to be remembered?) is an opportunity to create new traditions, a way to bring that person into your experience of the holidays. now and in the future, even though they’re not actually here with us anymore.

How I Deal with Missing my Mother During the Holidays

For example,

Question 1: How do I remember my mother especially regarding the holidays?

My mom loved the holidays. She moved to America when she was 15 from Hong Kong so she really embraced the whole traditions of Christmas including the tree and the presents underneath and all the horrible tinsel from the ’80s.

I also have bittersweet memories of my mother in the holidays. The last time I saw her was the Christmas of 2012. I wish that I had spent more time with her. I wish that I had been more patient. I wish I’d listened to her more. I have regrets about that time.

Question 2: How do I WANT to remember my mother?

Rather than dwelling on my regrets about that time, that last Christmas together, I’m choosing to remember how happy my mother was, how healthy, how active and all the amazing plans that she had. How excited she was that we were home, visiting her and staying at her house during that Christmas.

Question 3: How do I want her to be remembered?

Again, this is more about celebrating her and figuring out a way to have her involved in the holidays, even though she’s gone. So I’m going to make sure that there’s good food because even though I’m not the cook that my mother was, I love good food, she loved good food, so we’re definitely going to eat well this holiday. I’ve put up decorations. So even though we don’t do a big tree, I make sure to put up some decorations.

And the decorations in the embedded video above, with aqua stars, it’s a color that means a lot to me and that I associate with my mother so that’s a personal connection. I’m going to reach out to friends and family because that’s something that was very important to my mom. And I’m going to wear my mother’s cashmere sweaters. She had a real thing for cashmere in her later years and it makes me feel really close to her when I wear the cashmere, especially in festive red.

Those are just some examples of how I personally answer those questions regarding the person that I’ve lost and that I miss a lot during the holidays.

  • How do I remember her?
  • How do I want to remember her?
  • How do I want her to be remembered?

I hope that’s helpful. I’m sorry if you’re hurting and grieving, and I hope that this helps in some way to give you some ideas for how we can move forward with our lives and celebrate the holidays and still have the person we’ve lost involved, even though they’re not here with us anymore

I’d love to hear how you’re coping, who you’re missing and how you might be celebrating:



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I'm Charlene

I help grieving people feeling burdened by responsibilities, resentments and regrets after the death of a loved one to feel lighter –– so you can live your own fullest life. 

After the sudden death of my mother Marilyn in 2013, I put my life, work and grief on hold as I struggled to deal with the estate, paperwork and belongings.

Healing took time -- and it took help.

I'm a certified grief coach, and I developed my Curating Grief framework to help people process grief and loss in a creative, accessible way.


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