Helpful Hints for Coping with Grief

“Grief shared is grief divided, joy shared is joy multiplied.”


1.  Be kind to yourself, patient and understanding of your limitations. Accept that it will take time for you to be able to resume your daily life and find ways to accommodate your needs. Understand that you will likely be preoccupied, and that you will not feel like yourself. This is a normal reaction to your loss.


Make lists and plan everything with the knowledge that you may not do anything you plan. This is a time to constantly say to you “I’LL DO THE BEST I CAN.”


During the holidays, the world appears consumed with the holiday spirit; everywhere you look there is the Norman Rockwell version of holiday celebrations with the family gathered around the table and everyone seems happy. When someone is grieving the loss of a loved one and there is an empty chair at the family table, we who are grieving dread the holidays. We feel compelled and obligated to go forth with the usual rituals. Despite instincts warning that a situation will be extremely painful, and almost impossible, we attempt to go on as normal, masking our pain. The most important way to get through the holidays is to dare to be different – it is our right. Listen to that inner voice that tells you that something is too much to bear and make a decision to handle it differently …however you choose to.



2.  Take all the time you need to grieve. Many of us work too many hours or throw ourselves into the daily rush in order to avoid our feelings. By doing this, we prolong the inevitable, and we are setting ourselves up to have an emotional outburst when something

minor occurs. Find a safe place and time that you build into your day to remember and feel the love you have for your child. Allow the feelings to come . Arrange your life so that you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Some people do this in their car, or in the woods, one woman found that listening to soft music before she slept allowed her to sit with the pain in a peaceful and healing way. Be creative and prioritize this as a tribute to the love you shared with your child, this is your special time.



3.  Establish a support network for yourself. Surround yourself with positive, caring people who will allow you to be yourself. In other words avoid people who have timetables and expectations of when you should be “over this.” Tell people what you need from them. Don’t try to protect them from your pain. Let people know your needs, such as: whether or not to talk about your child and how to handle the responsibilities for gatherings. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else to take over the task that you traditionally have carried out. Also, during the holidays, your child’s birthday, or on the anniversary of his/her death, decide whether or not you want to stay home or ‘run away”. Perhaps you want to be in a totally different environment. The choice is yours and yours alone.



4.  Establish rituals to honor your child. The mourning process is not a time of forgetting – it is a time of remembering what our children meant to us, and will always mean to us. Many people have the misconception that talking about the loss only makes it worse. Recalling and retelling the stories, and remembering children is part of the healing process. This is especially true for us – parents who have lost a child. A parent who loses a child has a strong need to keep that child’s memory alive because we had our child for such a short period of time. Rituals and story telling are essential for us grieving parents, and the most loving thing others can do is to listen. Perhaps there is a special ritual that you would like to begin in memory of your child. Some of us may want to change the usual ritual or exchange gifts at another time. Holiday shopping can be particularly painful. Shopping for gifts with a list is helpful, so that we can go in and out of stores quickly. Another idea that has worked for some of us is having a meal together on a day other than the holiday and or attending a different place of worship.


5.  Maintain your sense of humor. There are no laws or rules that say that if you laugh or have fun during your mourning process that you are being disrespectful or disloyal and yet many people feel guilty for having a life after a loss so great. Laughter can relieve tension and promote a sense of relief. It’s great medicine.


6.  Avoid the use of alcohol and drugs. Remember, to use them sparingly because of the effect of mood swings, alcohol acts as a depressant and even though you may mask your symptoms temporarily, they will be intensified later.


7.  Take one day at a time. There will be good days and bad. Make a list of things you absolutely have to do and on the good days do as much as you can and recognize that on the bad days you won’t be able to do anything. Also, let people know that you may or may not be able to attend gatherings and explain that it will depend on how you are feeling at the time ensuring that you don’t have to call and explain when you simply don’t feel like seeing anyone. Holidays and anniversaries will always be difficult, plan accordingly, so that you have time to remember and grieve.


8.  There Are No Shoulds, Or Thou Shalt Nots About Grieving. There is no proper way to grieve, except to do what works for you as long as it doesn’t cause anyone else harm – go for it. This is your personal journey and you need to go at your own pace in your own way.

Other Ritual Examples:


  • Lighting a candle at the holiday table
  •  Placing a special ornament on a tree or creating a type of memorial in a specified space in the home.
  •  Gifts can be given to a specified Memorial Fund in memory of you child.
  •  Put special thoughts in a stocking or other container and family and friends read them at a specific time.
  •  Order a special bouquet of your child’s favorite flowers, toys or games to be in a place of worship or other significant place.
  •  During the holidays, the ritual of sending cards or other correspondence is difficult. There may be people who do not know about the loss of your child. A simple way of informing others about your loss is to enclose the little funeral service card in the envelope. People have found the response comforting and it gives them some way of connecting with you and your child.

Most of all, remember, that you are not alone. We are all joined by our love which never dies.

Article contributed by Dr. Kate Eastman, Psy.D, LCSW and Dr. Elizabeth Samenfeld-Spect, MA, LCPC, LAMFT