Coping with grief at Christmas – top tips

  • 7 December, 2023
  • News

Christmas comes with a lot of expectations: crisp snowy days, children’s laughter, cosy hot chocolates with the family around the log fire. But we all know that often Christmas Day doesn’t live up to expectations, and for those who are grieving, it may be something they approach with dread.

Coping with grief at Christmas

“I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas.” – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.

With family traditions, familiar roles and nostalgic memories of Christmases past, there are many potential triggers over the seasonal period that can make it a very difficult time for the bereaved.

“Always winter but never Christmas.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Coping with grief this Christmas…

Last Christmas around 13 million people were struggling with grief after a bereavement. If you’ve lost a loved one and are worried about coping with grief this Christmas, here is a list of top tips to help you manage the day:


Planning is essential. How do you want your Christmas Day to look? Do you know that certain traditions or activities will be difficult or upsetting for you? You may want your Christmas to be as close to previous ones as possible, or you may want a completely different one with fewer difficult reminders for you. But make sure you consider how you want to spend your day – you are the best judge of how you will cope; don’t feel pressured into doing something you know will upset you.

Take a break

Ensure you allow yourself some time alone in the day if you feel you need it. Perhaps take a short wintery stroll to collect your thoughts, have a nap to recharge your batteries on what can be an exhausting day, or even just have a cry to let it all out. You could put together a Grief Playlist and take some time to listen to songs that offer you solace and comfort when you need them throughout the day. Part of Life have put together a playlist that you might find helpful, with suggestions and advice from guest blogger Amy Jackson.

Part of Life's grief playlist

Involve your loved one in your day

It can be a good idea to create new traditions that help you to honour your loved one and feel that they play a part in your Christmas. You could light a candle for them after dinner, or say a toast to their memory before tucking in. Perhaps a familiar walk with family members or a particular game that you all used to enjoy could also provide the endorphins you may all be lacking at this time of year.

Accept help

It’s a busy day. You may not want to bother friends and family with your grief, but they love and care for you, and they will want to make sure you feel supported. Some may try not to mention it at all, thinking they will upset you, so make sure to let them know if you’re comfortable and want to talk about it. A wall of silence isn’t helpful and trying to keep a brave face will be exhausting.

Coping with grief at Christmas

Try to find solace and joy in the little things

Christmas is coming whether we want it to or not, and it’s perfectly normal to feel both sad and happy at the same time, and there’s no need to feel guilty about enjoying yourself. There are lots of small moments in a day that can uplift you; whether it’s the laughter of children, a jolly robin in your garden, or just a glass of your favourite tipple; don’t feel bad for finding some enjoyment in the day.

Ros Gardiner, Creative Therapy Coordinator at Dorothy House

“Go with how you feel and don’t try to fulfil others’ expectations of how you should behave. Recognise it is ok to not put on a brave face for everyone. Perhaps spend some time with those also affected and keep communication going. Maybe start a new tradition and acknowledge the absence of a loved one as part of the Christmas period. Make time to remember the person you have lost.”

– Ros Gardiner, Creative Therapy Coordinator

Do Christmas your way

The Christmas season can be tough, so make sure to do what feels best for you. Remember, you have the right to spend it how you choose to. If you need any further tips, check out this helpful video by Susan Delaney of the Irish Hospice Network, recommended by our Family Support Team.

If you’re struggling with a bereavement, we are here for you. Find out more about the bereavement support we offer here.