Surviving the Holidays Without a Loved One

Transitional steps through the grieving process
December 19, 2014 Updated: December 19, 2014

Two years ago, I suffered the devastating loss of my mother. She had courageously battled multiple myeloma for seven years and tragically passed at the young age of 72 before Thanksgiving in 2012.

Grieving a loss of a loved one can trigger many emotions, and the pain can be especially intense during the holidays.

Many people will tell you that the first year is the hardest, and by the second year, the emotions of grieving often diminish. However, it is important to understand that the grieving process is a very personal experience, and the healing time may vary for each individual.

Coping With Loss

Grieving is a transitional process as you learn to cope with the loss of a loved one in your life. The intensity of each person’s grief is as unique as the relationship being mourned.

Three are three main phases of the grieving process:

1. Acknowledgement: the process of acknowledging the loss and the impact it will have on your life.

2. Healing feelings: the process of allowing yourself to feel all of the different emotions that are a part of the grieving process, like devastation, anger, sadness, broken spirit, depression, lack of focus, guilt, regret, stress, pain, or disorganization.

3. Acceptance and transition: the process of accepting the eventual integration of the loss into what will now become “the new normal,” continuing to transition your life, and moving forward.

Taking control of your grief can be a very difficult and challenging task, but it is important to remember that grieving is a healing process. Even though the pain may be intense, learning to be present with your grief whenever it comes up will help you move toward accepting the loss and moving forward in your life step by step.

During this challenging time, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to set personal boundaries and to say no if you really don’t feel like attending a holiday get-together. Sharing your needs will also help people to better support and understand you.

Remember, it is normal to sometimes feel guilty for those brief moments when you find yourself laughing or feeling some joy. Acknowledge your feelings, bad or good, and move on. Eventually, as you transition, the pain will lessen, and you will be able to create fond memories during the holidays once again.

Setting New Traditions

Staying positive, grateful, and active are the best ways to keep your mind, body, and spirit healthy as you navigate through a difficult time. While it is normal to feel alone, helpless, and hopeless after experiencing a significant loss, honoring your loved one in creative ways can help you get through the holidays, heal from your loss, and establish meaningful traditions for years to come.

I incorporated many things I had done with my mom to help me cope during the first year of grieving. I planted items in my garden in her honor. I created a slide show commemorating her life with the songs she used to sing around the house when I was a child.

I made a “pilgrimage” to all the places we had gone antiquing over the years. I wrote a gratitude letter, as well as a good-bye letter, making sure to say the things I might have forgotten.

Here are a few creative ways to help you survive the holiday celebrations this year:

1. Give a gift in honor of your loved one. Donate to his or her favorite organization or cause.

2. Make or purchase a holiday item, such as ornaments, decorations, or cookies, to commemorate your loved one. I strung popcorn and cranberries as I had done when I was a child. I also took a trip to my mom’s favorite Christmas shop in Vermont to buy ornaments for close family and friends.

3. Set a place at the holiday table. This is an old tradition for many families who are missing loved ones. Some find it can have a soothing effect to symbolize that their loved one is always with them in their heart.

4. Light a candle in the name of your loved one. Place the candle in the window, in the table centerpiece, or on the Christmas tree.

5. Share fond memories. Sharing inspires others. It shows strength, love, acceptance, and honor.

6. Send cards to those special to your loved one. Keep the holiday card traditions or gift giving in honor of your dearly departed. It will touch the hearts of others who miss him or her too.

7. Give an item that belonged to your loved one to someone else you love. Give an ornament or memento to special people in his or her life. I gave some Christmas ornaments my mom had made to family and close friends.

8. Make a resolution that will honor your dearly departed all year. Give thanks for all that this special person instilled in you and live life to the fullest in his or her honor.

9. Hang a welcome wreath with your loved one in mind. Alternatively, put out a special welcome mat. Let it represent the journey of life.

It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. Time may not necessarily heal all wounds or broken hearts, but it does allow us to work through our grief in a healthy way and rediscover what’s important in life.

The journey through grief is different for everyone, but in my experience, each year becomes a little easier, as fond memories begin to replace the sadness. This holiday season, choose to honor your dearly departed with a new tradition, knowing that your loved one will always live in your heart.

Victoria Ann Diaz is a certified integrative health and life coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. In her Life Balance Health Coach practice, she supports clients with a mindful-living approach to health and wellness. For more information, visit