Dec 20, 2021 2:30 PM

Author: Gloria Hammond & Adrienne Bott, Program Coordinators, Caring Connections


The holidays can be a hectic time for many of us. The social obligations and financial stress that come with the season are compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to typical seasonal stress, those who are grieving may experience exacerbated grief when approaching the holidays. The expectation associated with the season—that it is to be a joyous time spent with family—can be a tough or impossible expectation to meet for someone dealing with grief. It becomes uniquely difficult if the person they lost was a family member.

Katherine Supiano, PhD, LCSW, FT, FGSA, APHSW-C, program director of Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Grief Program, says that it’s important for grievers to anticipate the coming holidays and consider what plans and arrangements will work best for them this year: “No one should let that day sneak up on them and think, ‘Oh, what am I going to do today?’”

Make a Plan

Answering questions about your personal needs and expectations may relieve stress and help you plan your approach to the holiday season.

Questions you may want to consider when moving forward with plans:

Ask: Who do you want to spend the holidays with this year?

Beyond who you will spend the holidays with, do you want to spend this time remembering your loved one, or take the holiday as an opportunity for distraction from the feelings of grief? “A good part of grief is actually stepping away from grief, doing some self-care, being with other people, and having some pleasure in life,” Supiano says.

Compromise: Anticipate what will work best for your grief this holiday season, but also work with family to find a middle ground that will work for everyone.

Evaluate Traditions: Do you want to carry on old traditions, or do you want to start a new tradition this holiday?

“Taking the time to light a candle in memory of the person who died can be a powerful new tradition—whether you choose to gather with people you love or remember the person privately,” Supiano says.  

Accept that the Holidays May Look Different This Year

“Another thing to think about is just lowering our expectations,” Supiano says. “A lot of people are pushing to get back to normal. That is not only premature but may be more than we can do right now. Maybe we need a gentler December.”

As we approach the second holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to set realistic expectations for what may be considered “normal.” You may be able to relieve holiday stress by lowering your expectations of what the holidays should look like and how you should feel during the season. Social media can exacerbate the pressure to create a picture-perfect December—take time to reflect on whose expectations you are trying to meet. Supiano reminds us that holidays are “less about the tinsel, and more about the time together.”

Does Grief Get Easier or Change Over Time?

Many people dealing with grief wonder if it ever gets easier, or if a time will come when they stop grieving. Feelings of grief tend to ebb and flow but may never go away completely. It is normal that holidays, birthdays, or the anniversary of a person's death can activate feelings of grief.

“There is no finish line with grief,” Supiano says. “Though over time, grievers will come to remember the life of the person who died rather than the circumstances of the death itself.”

It may be helpful to reframe these times of activated grief as a time for remembering. This can be an opportunity to share your feelings with family members or to suggest a new tradition, but respect that their choices may be different from yours. Practice kindness towards yourself and others, who may also be grieving or struggling this holiday season.

COVID-19 Pandemic and Grief

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a monumental impact on grief. Many people are dealing with a loss to COVID-19 from a position of heightened social isolation, which may complicate the grieving process. As we mourn a disheartening 800,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States and 5.31 million deaths worldwide, it’s more crucial than ever to help those who are grieving.

Caring Connections offers virtual support groups for those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning in January 2022, the organization will provide a virtual COVID-19 Grief Support Group for those who have lost a family member or friend to COVID-19. Caring Connections will also provide two virtual COVID-19 Recovery Support Groups, for those who have contracted COVID-19 and are dealing with long-term symptoms and emotional struggles.

Call (801) 585-9522 or visit https://nursing.utah.edu/caring-connections for more information about Caring Connections Grief Support Groups.

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