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Dealing with grief and the holidays - a helpful guide, from the Nova Scotia Health Palliative Care Network

Dealing with grief during the holidays

The Holiday season can be a time for joy, celebration, and connection. For many people, the holidays are also a difficult time of year, including those who are grieving.  

Feelings of grief can be especially challenging during the holidays, whether you have experienced a recent loss or continue to grapple with a loss that occurred long ago. To manage our holiday grief, we might skip our regular traditions, feel uncomfortable in the presence of others, or feel unsure how to participate while dealing with the strong emotions of grief.  

We all grieve in different ways and in our own time. Often, we are not able to predict how we will feel or when we will feel it. Finding ways to navigate grief, or support others who are grieving, can help us balance festivities and joyful gathering with loss, sadness, and bereavement.

These coping tips can help us approach the holidays with compassion for ourselves and others:

  • Let others know you are grieving. You don’t have to pretend you are okay, sharing what you are going through with others helps them understand your actions and feelings during the holidays.  
  • Talking about those who have died can be painful but can also help us accept loss and celebrate life simultaneously. Sharing stories or songs, raising a glass to those who are absent, creating a new holiday tradition in their honour, or making a special keepsake are examples of ways we can remember those who are absent.
  • Letting go of the pressure to partake in every holiday activity can create space for personal wellness. There is no grief roadmap to follow, it’s okay to carve out some time to spend by yourself and doing the things that help you get through challenging times.  
  • When supporting others who are grieving, check in on them. Drop them a card or a message or deliver a care package. Invite them in to connect with you and their circle of support, but don’t get discouraged if they don’t always take you up on the offer.  
  • Listen, be present, and validate the feelings of those who are experiencing grief. Resist attempts to make things better by offering an “upside.” For example, when a friend expresses sadness after a family member has died, instead of saying “at least they are at peace now,” offer a response that validates their feelings and shows you care, for example “I am so sorry, I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”

Grief is complex, and the holidays can bring the many emotions associated with grief into a stronger focus. Giving space for moments of sadness among moments of cheer can help us through. Find the right approach for you and be kind to yourself.  

For more grief supports and resources, visit the Nova Scotia Health website, Facebook page,, call 211 or click the 211 link to find grief support in your community.  

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