Grief and the Holidays

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on

Ready or not, we’re entering the holiday season of 2020 – a year filled with loss and grief and a lack of normalcy.

With Covid deaths rising to over 250,000 in the United States, some of us are grieving lost lives this year. We’re also grieving lives lost from other sicknesses or accidents. And in this pandemic, most of us are grieving the loss of routine and the loss of anticipated events or occasions, the loss of social connections as we isolate at home, or maybe the loss of a job and income. Add to that, the great political divide in this country, and some of us are grieving the loss of relationships or, at the very least, a change in relationships with friends or family members.

As I’ve walked through grief with my children for the last 16 months, we’ve learned a few things about facing special occasions and holidays.

First, it is possible to hold both extreme joy and extreme sadness at the same time. Even though our society tends to promote an either/or mindset, our human hearts are capable of both/and. Both sadness and joy. Both grief and gladness. Both hope and despair. As we approach the holiday season, let’s give ourselves permission to feel it all – the joy, the sadness, the loss, the gain, the pain, the pleasure — all of it is real and valid.

In the days following the death of my children’s father, one of my daughters lamented, “We’ll never again know only pure joy. Every good moment will be tinged with grief and sadness because Dad won’t be there.” She was right. Since his death, we have experienced some of life’s most joyous celebrations – birthdays, championships, graduations, accolades, a wedding. In each of those moments, the reality of their dad’s absence has been acute. But the joy has also been astounding. Both/and. Piercing grief and abundant joy in the same moment. You may find that your holiday season is similar.

Next, everyone may not be on the same emotional page. I have six children. Everyone’s grief doesn’t always follow the same timetable. One of them may be feeling the full weight of loss while another is coasting along just fine. Then a few weeks later, emotions shift and the tables are turned. In the first 24 hours after we knew their dad had passed, we sat down together and agreed that everyone has permission to feel whatever feelings they have, at their own pace and in their own way.

Though we may all feel a similar collective grief, the experience of grieving is a very individualized one. We can hold space for each other, love each other, and listen to each other; however, each of us must process through grief at our own pace and in our own way.

The same is true for you. You have permission to feel whatever you feel – without comparing your emotions to anyone else’s. Though we’re tempted to look around and weigh our losses next to another person’s — “I only lost a job, and he lost a family member,” or “I only lost one parent, and this person lost both,” or “I only lost the graduation ceremony I wanted, and she lost her long-awaited wedding ceremony,” — this only compounds our grief with shame. You don’t need to minimize your loss. Your grief and sadness are valid. Your loss is real, and it’s ok to get in your feels about it.

Finally, it’s OK to modify celebrations or create new traditions. And it’s OK to try something that doesn’t work. When their dad’s birthday came for the first time after his death, the kids planned an entire day of activities honoring him. They planned out every moment of the day and spent it together doing all the things he would have loved. It was sweet and, in some ways, healing, but it was also a lot. Too much for some of them. When Father’s Day rolled around, they didn’t want to acknowledge the day at all. His birthday had been too much, and the pain was too great, so they basically outwardly ignored Father’s Day. By the end of the day, they decided that tactic hadn’t worked very well either. When we sat down together to debrief and discuss emotions, they all agreed that on future special days, they’d need to find a happy medium between the two extremes.

It’s OK if you try a new way to acknowledge or celebrate holidays this year, and it flops. Relieve yourself of the pressure to make the holidays perfect. 2020 for sure isn’t the year for that! And honestly, no other year is either. Picture-perfect holidays aren’t real life. Authentically navigate this holiday season, coming to it wherever and however you happen to be. 

Most of all, please know — if you’re struggling to feel the joy, if you’re limping along to the 2020 finish line, you are not alone. I see you. I’m holding space for you. There is zero pressure for you to pretend to be more OK than you are. You are loved and valued exactly as you are, where you are. 

2 thoughts on “Grief and the Holidays

  1. I lost my dad too recently and could relate with everything you said. Every word of this article! Thank you for putting this out there. There is no expiry on grief; we will not wake up one day and say okay, enough time has passed and we’re okay now. Instead we learn to live with it. But with time I feel like his passing has changed me, and in ways I now love. Wishing you all lots of grace, strength and love!


  2. Jenn, thank you for sharing from the heart. I am sorry for the loss you and your children are navigating. It is a lifelong journey and I am familiar. Your message in this particular post resembles almost exactly what I spoke about in my podcast. Episode 17 Holidays: You have permission to establish new rules. You can find it on my website. I appreciate your wisdom. Keep sharing.


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