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Holiday Traditions & Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief

Written by Margaret Stone
Published on December 14, 2021

The holidays are here and in full swing. There’s no escaping the tsunami of mini lights strewn across every neighborhood and the incessant commercials offering up the perfect Christmas like the little drummer boy rampa-pa-pa-ing on steroids. Not a fan of the holidays, you ask?  Actually, I absolutely love Christmas, especially the lights. It’s just a different ball game when you’re struggling to cope with loss and the messiness of holiday grief and all that comes with it.

Losing A Loved One Before the Holidays – A Personal Story

Two months ago, I lost my brother, Paul, after a long battle with alcoholism. His struggle was profound, and he worked so very hard at his recovery but in the end, this disease proved to be unrelenting and unforgiving. I had the blessing to sit with him and hold his hand as he left this world; I pray he has finally found the peace that so eluded him. Paul was insanely brilliant; a sweet, generous, and incredibly talented guy. A phenomenal brother, son, uncle, and friend. His is a deeply felt loss.  

Processing Grief With Memories of Holiday Traditions

Paul always liked Christmas, really the traditions my mother created for us when we were kids, the little things that made all of our holidays special. He loved having everyone home from school when we were younger and always dressed for the holidays because that’s the way we always did things. As an adult, he created his own tradition of giving each of us a special ornament every year; not your run-of-the-mill ornament but something really special.   

Now truth be told we haven’t really celebrated Christmas in 3 years as we lost our 21-year-old son to suicide in 2018. Last year, I wrote about reimaging Christmas and celebrating in a way that spoke to our grief but with a glimmer of hope and light. This year seems just too hard. It’s all too much, one on top of the other. But as things seem to turn out, there was what I call that little grace that changed my mind once again.

A Glimmer of Hope Amidst Holiday Grief

Last weekend I started to sort through Paul’s things and there in our garage were 6 boxes labeled ‘Christmas ornaments’ and so I started to unwrap.  As I laid out everything on the counter I realized just how much those childhood memories, those traditions meant to him. He had saved the old-fashioned rope lights and the bulbs and the ornaments from my mother’s collection from when we were kids and carefully stored them away. He had tree stands and the old-fashioned tinsel we used to put on our tree. My heart broke to see it all laid out and realize he never got the chance to find that place, with that tree and to have a family of his own, to feel that feeling of Christmas; to feel loved and whole again. He was so generous with each of us but for himself, he took so little.

Starting New Traditions to Honor Loved Ones’ Legacies

I realize while I have zero desire to ‘do the Christmas thing’ I want to honor him by doing what he couldn’t do for himself. And so, I took those very special ornaments and hung them on the ribbon and placed them throughout the house. I packed up others and sent them to my sister and cousin. I gave others to a group that gives them to the poor. His things, a new tradition.

While the losses we endure change how we see the holidays, they do not deprive us of holding on to those pieces that keep those we lost alive in our hearts.  I want him with us in the worst way and so this is the compromise I make this holiday season: continue his tradition, keep his spirit alive and honor the part of Christmas that he loved, and hope, just hope, he’s finally in that safe, happy place he so ached for.

Help for Coping with Grief During the Holidays

At O’Connor Professional Group, we understand how difficult the holidays can be for those grieving or struggling with mental or behavioral health conditions. We offer a breadth of behavioral health services to address the needs of individuals and families living with addictions, eating disorders, mood and personality disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and other behavioral health conditions. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder or has experienced grief and are in need of support, contact us today. Our compassionate professionals are here to help find the resources to support you and your family.


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