Holiday Grief: Part II

Now that the holidays are in full swing and we read about some of the challenges experienced while grieving during the holidays, let's talk about what to do with these challenges!


In last week's blog article, I briefly talked about the common question as to whether it's possible to grieve and experience joy at the same time. The answer is yes and it's referred to as BOTH AND. How do we do this? Through something called The Dual Process Model. This model displays the idea that, while grieving, we will oscillate/move back and forth between loss oriented emotions and behaviors and engaging in regular day-to-day activities; at both an individual and family level. View the figure below for a visual representation of The Dual Process Model.

How does this relate to the holidays and BOTH AND? When grieving, you may go back and forth between experiencing joy/merriment/happiness and moments of grief during the holidays. For example, as you're getting ready for your annual family function your grief may be triggered as you think about how you're going to navigate this without your loved one. Once you arrive and are greeted warmly, you experience a slight moment of peace. This is okay. This is a typical occurrence while grieving. Recognizing this shift, no matter how small or brief, carries great benefit.

What's the best way to notice this shift? In whatever way that makes the most sense/feels right to you. It can be through mindfulness (recognizing how you feel your emotions physically), music (songs that may be contributing to the shift; Is there a song that provides you with peace? Is there a song that allows you to slow down and recognize how you're feeling in the moment?), pictures, art, etc. You not only want to notice the shift, but I want to encourage you to normalize it for yourself as well. Acknowledge that bouncing between these two experiences (no matter how brief) is a healthy part of grief. How will you recognize your experience with BOTH AND this holiday season?

Meaning Behind the Pain

Human beings are storytellers! We develop narratives to not only relate to people but to make sense of our surroundings and what we experience. This also occurs while grieving through making sense of our grief and loss (stay tuned for an upcoming blog article about meaning making in grief). This leads me to the next way you can begin to cope with the grief challenges encountered during the holidays...explore the meaning behind the pain you're experiencing.

I'm a very hands on person and I believe we learn best by doing. So let's do a little exercise! Take a minute to think about what's painful (previously or currently) about the holidays while grieving. As you think about this, I want you to answer this series of questions:

  1. "What is currently or has been the hardest thing?"

  2. "How does this show up? What is the representation telling you?"

  3. "How do you hold space for when the hardest thing you've identified shows up?"

What did you come up with? Did you find one question more challenging than the others? Were you unable to answer a question? If you're having a hard time determining one specific battle or one specific emotion, that's okay. There are many layers to grief and they tend to be tangled together; stressing the importance of moving through your grief journey at a pace that feels right for you. If we move too quickly, this could cause more harm than good.

Future Endeavors

As you move through your grief journey, you will find yourself in a place where you can begin to explore how you want to maintain a relationship with the deceased (tune into a future blog article talking about continued bonds to learn more about how to get to this spot in your grief journey and what the continuing bonds process entails). During the holidays, this involves exploring areas such as: how you want to sustain a connection with your past loved one, how you might include your deceased loved one in holiday festivities, and/or what traditions or rituals you may want to carry on or develop to honor your past loved one.

While these future endeavors are an incredible aspect of the grief journey, patience is a virtue. As I previously mentioned, exploring the process of continued bonds too soon can cause more harm than good. The meaning of the pain and loss must be explored and understood in its entirety before moving forward.

If you believe you are ready for the process of continued bonds, go for it! Start exploring how you will honor your loved one this holiday season.

This holiday season, I want you to explore how you may begin to recognize the shift (no matter how small/brief) between grief and joy. How are you finding yourself recognizing that shift and/or what helps you recognize that shift?

If it feels appropriate, continue on to explore the meaning behind the pain. Answer and be mindful of the series of questions in the exercise you did earlier in this blog.

Most importantly, how can you validate and normalize where you are in your grief journey and how it shows up this holiday season?

Here's to living a better life as our best self!

Brittany Squillace, MA, LAMFT

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