Secondary Loss: Coping with Holidays After Death

Entering the holiday season after the death of a loved one can sometimes feel as though you’re experiencing grief all over again. It’s important to take care of yourself during this time if you’re feeling a little (or very) low. Here are our top tips.
Secondary Loss: Coping with Holidays After Death

So you’ve said goodbye to a loved one and are about to enter the holiday season; your first since their passing. While every day of the year is no doubt difficult without them, big calendar dates like Christmas (or whichever religious festivals you celebrate) and New Year’s can often feel as though you’re grieving their death all over again. This is what’s called ‘secondary loss’.

There are many reasons one might experience secondary loss at holiday time following the death of a loved one. Some might include:

  • Having to change how you celebrate the festive season because your loved one is no longer there.
  • Fear that the happiest and most festive time of the year might never feel positive ever again, now that they’re gone.
  • Feeling like you need to change the way you celebrate the holiday season.
  • No longer connecting to the holidays you’d usually celebrate.
  • Considering skipping the holidays all together or choosing not to acknowledge them in any way.

And, of course, there are many other reasons one might experience secondary loss. We’ve created a short list of recommendations to help you cope with the holiday season this year. Whether you’ve recently farewelled a friend or family member, or they passed away a while ago and you still struggle with this festive period, we hope this helps make this time of year a little easier for you.

Plan ahead, and prepare yourself for things to feel a little different.

Anticipate the upcoming season and do what you can to prepare yourself ahead of time. Consider which traditions might look and feel different this year (Did they usually host a meal at their place? Maybe they made the same special festive cake for dessert every year?) and brainstorm constructive ways to combat that inevitable sense of secondary loss when those traditions are no longer there this year.

Acknowledge your loss. It’s hard, but helpful.

We all know that talking about grief and loss is a beneficial coping mechanism. But it’s important to talk about the way you feel with your family and friends, especially if you’re all experiencing this secondary loss together. Things will never be exactly the same again now that they’re gone, and for the first time, what was once a happy season can feel a little darker, colder and unfamiliar. Talk to your loved ones, acknowledge what you’re feeling, and band together to rebuild the holidays you once loved (if you can, and if it feels right to do so).

There’s something perfect about imperfection.

It’s hard not to put pressure on ourselves when it comes to the holiday season. We’re human, afterall, and we love nothing more than events being executed smoothly. But, our recommendation? Be kind to yourself and don’t expect these holidays to feel perfect. Grief can be especially strong during this time, so allow yourself to feel all the feels and forgive yourself for not bringing your A-Game to meals and festivities.

Get comfortable with saying ‘no’.

If you’re usually surrounded by friends and family who include you in absolutely everything, it’s okay to say no or to cancel plans if you don’t feel up to attending. Our loved ones will often make a huge effort around the holidays – because they know it’s a tough time – but there’s never any pressure to say ‘yes’ to every offer. Say yes to what excites you, and no to what doesn’t serve you. Do whatever feels right, and look after yourself first this year. Your friends and family will just have to understand.

Create new traditions.

You might be saying goodbye to old traditions this year, but this also gives you an opportunity to create new ones. Think about new ways you can celebrate the holidays and remember, your loved one definitely wants you to enjoy the festive period. Finding new ways to discover positivity during this season is exactly what they’d want you to do – so try your best to honour that in whatever way you can.

Ask for help when/if you need it.

Sometimes speaking to a professional can help with the roller coaster of emotions you’ll be experiencing over the holidays. If you feel you need it, reach out to a professional. They can often provide resources and tools to help you cope with secondary loss.

Wrap up

This holiday season is most likely going to feel a little different to previous holiday seasons, and it’s so important to acknowledge that. Our biggest recommendation? Take things slowly. Let the emotions flow. And don’t expect to smile and party your way through the festivities as though nothing has happened. Secondary grief can feel very real during the holiday season. Feel the feels and anticipate things feeling different. You’ve got this.

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