Two Lies About Holiday Grief That Hurt Mourners

close up of christmas decoration The holiday season can be extremely stressful for those grieving the loss of a loved one.  In our culture there is unnecessary pressure upon all of us all to make the holidays perfect.  Of course, that perfect, idealized holiday season seen in Norman Rockwell paintings, holiday movies and in Hallmark greeting cards isn’t likely to happen.  Whenever people are involved, things aren’t going to absolutely perfect.  No matter how hard people try to be perfect, they just aren’t.

Mourners are already stressed in their grief journey.  They don’t need to give into the pressure to “do the holidays” perfectly…especially if some of the traditional ways of honoring the holidays has become terribly painful for them to do while in their grief.

Here are two major cultural lies about holiday grief that mourners need to avoid:

  • Don’t grieve openly during the holidays. You’ll ruin the holidays for yourself and others. Grief does not take a holiday. No matter how much you try to suppress your grief during the holidays the grief emotions will still be there and need to be expressed. Spend most of your time in places and with people who make you feel safe, supported and concerned for. If you have grief outbursts during holiday or family events, weather the embarrassment you may feel and know that people who really care about you will understand you and your need to grieve.Grief outbursts and unexpected crying may happen to you as a griever during the holidays. Both will also pass. Your grief will not ruin the holidays. If anyone is upset that you show your honest feelings during the holidays, it is not your fault. It’s their fault for choosing to be upset, to not respect your feelings and to be selfish.  
  • You must do the holidays as usual. Everybody expects it.  Everyone and every family has holiday traditions. Some of your friends and family members may put pressure on you as a griever to return this holiday season to those long-held traditions as a way of “getting on with your life” after your loss.   Some may even become offended when you will not hold to long-held traditions saying that you are being selfish. They may even say, “If we don’t do the holidays as usual, it just won’t feel like the holidays.”As a mourner facing the holidays, you have the right to do and say what you feel comfortable doing or saying. This holiday season mark off your list of traditional duties anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or doesn’t seem meaningful to you now. Instead of hosting the holidays at your house, suggest that someone else act as host. Instead of cooking the entire holiday feast yourself, suggest that the family and friends have a holiday potluck and buffet. If you don’t feel like putting up the tree, decorating the house or mailing out Christmas cards, then don’t.Know your limitations during this stressful holiday season. Don’t fill your schedule with back to back activities. Don’t overdo. Let family and friends know ahead of time what your plans are. Maybe you won’t be spending the whole day with them. Instead let them know ahead of time that you will be there for a meal and then go home to rest. Don’t give into their pressure on you to do more than you can emotionally and physically. 

    Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

    The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

    Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX