Getting through the Fog of Grief during the Holidays

I have spent nine difficult holidays without my late husband, and seven heartbreaking holidays without my son.

The first few holidays after their loss were so painful that I don’t remember much about them, other than I quickly understood that the holidays would never be the same.grief holi

Holidays became something I dreaded and had to get through, rather than something I celebrated and enjoyed.

So, why am I still surprised, almost a decade later, when my mostly healed heart, breaks back open during the holidays like clockwork?

Just what is it about the holidays that brings the pain of our loss back to the forefront of our hearts? And how can we be more prepared to deal with the unexpected pain?

Our society puts a lot of money, emotion and time into the winter holidays. Holidays are advertised as joyous occasions where we gather together and celebrate with family and friends. Everywhere you look there are reminders that the holidays are the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’

But, after loss, holidays don’t feel so wonderful anymore. In fact, they can be downright debilitating.

The reality is that there are very few times during the year where our loved one’s absence is more deeply felt, and mourned, than during the holidays.

We need to give ourselves a break during the holidays and recognize that –

This. Is. Hard.

Society sends us the message that we are supposed to be joyful and that the holidays are a time for celebration and connecting with people we love.

But, all we know is that we feel worse than ever.

Nothing seems to take away the empty feeling in the pit of our stomachs and the ache in our hearts.

We are required to show up to family gatherings, with a vital part of our family missing, and pretend that we are fine.

We are not fine.

We are grieving the fact that our loved one will never be a part of our family celebrations again.

The reminder of our loss is never as obvious as when we are surrounded by our extended family and friends, their family’s are whole and together. Our family has an obvious vacant spot and will never be whole without our missing loved woman

Just as the death of our loved one changed the way we look at life, the holidays will never be the same again without them there by our side.



All of these emotions and feelings can be rather confusing and catch us by surprise.

While we know that we feel broken during the holidays, we don’t fully understand why our pain is increasing during a time when everyone else is happy and seems to be enjoying themselves.

Family and friends around us don’t understand either, and they may feel uncomfortable being around our pain while they are trying to celebrate.

All of these holiday-induced emotions combine with our already fragile hearts to worsen our guilt and pain and feelings of loneliness. Putting us into an emotional fog that makes it difficult to find our way through the holiday.

So, we stumble through the holiday blindly, hoping that we come out on the other side with our hearts still in one piece.

I am finally coming to the conclusion that holidays will always be difficult, whether one year, ten years or two decades after my loved ones died.

This is the reality we must learn to live with.

We will always miss them.



We need to do a better job of being more aware that the holidays are a trigger for our grief, and find ways to take special care of our wounded hearts during the holidays.

Here are some suggestions that helped me get through the holidays:

1) Be kind and patient with yourself. Know that you don’t have to do the grief holidahard work of healing during the holidays, you just have to get through them. We will pick back up on working to heal our grief after the holidays. Understand that it is ok to be sad. You are in pain. The pain cuts deep. We can’t move through the pain until we’ve honored the emotions that demand to be felt.

2) Listen to what your body and your emotions are telling you. I tried to ignore these feelings of loss and sadness, and focus on the festivities. But, when I ignore my emotions my physical body sends me a reminder that, ultimately, I’m not the one in control. My body will shut itself down, making me feel physically ill and it will take days for me to recover my physical strength. Listen to the cues your body is sending you and acknowledge your emotions.

3) Look for activities and/or people that bring you some happiness. When I was in the trenches of grief, I found joy spending time with my two year old niece. Her infectious and innocent joy in life made me feel happy. Spending time with her was more effective than any antidepressant could have been.

4) Avoid the urge to isolate yourself. Loved ones may not understand the pain you’re going through, but they still want to try to support you.

5) Don’t overextend yourself physically or emotionally. You will find that you can’t do as much as you could before. That is ok. Our priority needs to be doing damage control and protecting our emotional and physical health as much as possible.

6) Learn that it’s ok to say no. Some people won’t understand, and you need to know that this is not your problem. You can’t control what other people think or feel. Your priority must shift to caring for yourself.

7) Find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling. If there is no one, journal your thoughts. Sometimes writing the thoughts down on a piece of paper allows them to escape from our heads and provides some emotional relief when we are feeling overwhelmed.

8) Sometimes volunteering or helping someone else in need can bring joy to our broken hearts. If you find joy in giving, find a way to balance giving to others in need, without draining yourself physically or emotionally.

9) Remember the beautiful holidays you were blessed to share with your loved ones before they died. What amazing gifts we were given. Remember and honor these times. Life is about adjusting to change. We can still find blessings in this holiday, and in future holidays. Look for those blessings.

Give yourself a gift by taking care of yourself this holiday.


Remember, it is okay to grieve, even if others are celebrating.

Find the balance of honoring your emotions and recognizing the blessings that are still right in front of you, waiting to be cherished.

You can get through this holiday.

There are blessings still to be found.

Don’t let grief steal more joy from you than it already has.

Sending you Christmas and Holiday Blessings.

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15 thoughts on “Getting through the Fog of Grief during the Holidays

  1. Tammie Robben

    Rhonda, this is beautifully said. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I hope Karla Harp reads this. This is trully wonderful!


  2. Lori Young

    I am gonna read the 2 or 3 times a day. I do everything in here that it says not to do. Thank you!!! Prayers for all those grieving.


      1. Tamara Sutterby

        Thank-you so much for this. I lost my Daughter May1st to Breast cancer after a 5 yesr fight. Nov .My other Daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery Dec 14th. A day before her 41st. Birthday. Surgery was a success so far. But having a problem healing… I trust and pray God heals her. I am hoping he doesnt want them Both…. Thank-you….Tami


  3. Cathy

    Well said and something I needed to read! I am feeling very lonely right now & although I have the support of my family I still can’t seem to get past these feelings. I live in a small town far from my family. I am from sunny California and now live where it snows 6 months out of the year. So it’s just not the holidays that bring me down its winter. So my sadness seems to go on for months. My mother, who past 15yrs ago, (which seems like yesterday to me) was my best friend, support & just someone I could always talk to. I will reread your words everyday & remember the good times I had with her. She always made Chritsmas very special. Happy thoughts to you & all who are feeling this pain of lost & emptiness…….


    1. Rhonda O'Neill

      Thank you, Cathy. After ten years I am finally understanding that these feelings are universal for those of us who have lost loved ones who meant the world to us. While we feel the loneliness, we are never truly alone as we are all linked by our shared experiences of loss. Sending you Christmas blessings. Rhonda


  4. Annette Padilla Williams

    there are things that might help.
    It started on April 28th when we lost our beloved Britney Dottie of 14yrs. ( She always got a new Christmas costume every year. )
    Then May 31st I was admitted to the emergency room because I was having major head pain that was making me sick and caused a seizure. Was trying to cope with the pain for 2 months. It turned out to be my blood pressure was way too high and doctor said I was extremely lucky that I didn’t have a major stroke.
    Then in June my brother in law was hospitalized from major infection in calf and foot due to diabetes and they had to amputate from just under knee down.
    And on July 24th we got a call that our beautiful Loving Daughter Glenda was shot in the head by her boyfriend then he turned the gun on himself. He died instantly while she struggled 2 hour’s then passed. She was 31 yrs.old with a 2 yr.old son whom we are still fighting in court over custody .
    And on December 13th my mother called me and said my older brother David passed away in his sleep last night. We buried him 1 week and 1day before Christmas .
    It’s just a lot to have to deal with atone time and i just really don’t know how .


    1. Rhonda O'Neill

      Annette, I am so sorry for all of your loss. Some people seem to receive much more than their fair share of suffering. God doesn’t give us as much as we can handle….sometimes, it is just too much. But, despite all of the tragedy, we still have to put food on the table, care for the children and find a way to get on with life, It is soooo hard!!!! But, know that you are not alone. There are so many people struggling with heart ache and health issues right now, and we can be a support to one another. You are not alone, and you can get through this. Life will never be the same, but eventually you will get to a place where it is less painful. Grief is a process and takes a lot of hard work to get through. But what awaits on the other side is a sense of peace and the ability to find joy again. I am sending you strength and love during this time. Your daughter and brother are both sending you encouragement and loving hugs, and so am I. Rhonda


  5. Pingback: Hurting With Hope Still Hurts: Holiday Grief | Ashton's Legacy

    1. Rhonda O'Neill

      Faye, I am so glad that my writing has helped you with your grief after losing your son. Thank you for including my writing in your blog. As parents who have lost a child, we can help to support each other. Our hearts will never be the same, but we can go on. Sending blessings to you. Rhonda


  6. Nancy Nye

    Well, we’re still alive and breathing after the holidays. But that doesn’t change the torture of our new daily existence…my heart is so broken over the loss of our four year old daughter to a tragic car accident three months ago, that I want to scream! She was our only child, brought to us as a blessing through adoption, and unexpectedly came to us through a very dear friend. My husband lost his mother, a year later I lost my godfather, we received the joyous news of our sweet daughter to be born, and four months later my mom was diagnosed. We were there for the birth of our baby angel, and four months later my mom passed. We had four years of love, joy and excitement with our sweet daughter and are so at a loss for how something like this happens. An amazing innocent life…beautiful, bountiful and a happy little girl…stripped away at random. What God are people referring to?


    1. Rhonda O'Neill

      Nancy, I’m so sorry for the loss of your precious daughter. The loss of a child who was so young is just excruciating. It is hard to understand why these things happen in life. I’m not convinced that there is an answer to “why”, other than things happen within this human existence that are beyond our control. God does not intentionally decide to take our children from us. I went through the same conflicts and anger towards God that it sounds like you are going through. I went from a Catholic to and agnostic to basically an atheist for years. I became an unhappy skeptic and I thought “God”, if there was one, was a big jerk. But, through looking for answers to my questions and spiritual experiences I have gone through, I have discovered a completely definition of what I think God is than what I believed before. I believe we are spiritual beings here having a human experience. This human experiences involves experiencing every emotion you can imagine, joy, suffering, ecstasy, heartbreak…..Ultimately, the only experience that is real and that goes on with us after death is love. The rest will fade away. Your daughter will always be with you. Not in physical form, which is very, very hard, but in spirit. The love you shared can never be lost. I am sending you all the strength and love I can to help heal your broken mother’s heart. Love to you, Rhonda


    2. Prudence

      “E chamas a essa recusa exercício de inteligência. Empenhas-te tanto em desfazer o que está feito, que acabarás por dar cabo do teu bem mais precioso: o sentido das coisas (…). De destruição em destruição, vais deslizando até à vaidade (…). Na falta de um outro sentido, terás de ir buscar o sentido a ti próprio. E só tu ficas a colorir as coisas com a tua pálida luz (…) no meio do teu deserto, terás de te mostrar satisfeito contigo próprio, porque fora de ti não há nenhuma outra coisa. Aí te temos condenado a gritar «eu, eu, eu…». No vazio. E ninguém te respdnoe.”Saint Exupéry


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