One Less at the Table: Experiencing the Holidays After a Loss

Photo by burningparrot 

The holiday season is an excellent time to come together with friends and family and celebrate many things, from what we’re most thankful for, to the coming of the New Year. For those who have just experienced loss—the death of a loved one—the holiday season can be difficult. What was once a season of joy can become a painful reminder of that loss and turns the holiday season into a very different experience than the jolly time experienced by others.

If you’ve experienced a loss, this article aims to shed some light on the grief you’re experiencing and to help you navigate its many stages. So, what exactly is grief?


Grief and Its Stages

Grief is the pain and emotional turmoil that follows loss. When accompanying the loss of a loved one, it may be followed by feelings of guilt or of confusion, particularly when the relationship with your loved one was complicated or difficult.

Many people are aware of the “five stages of grief” postulated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and apply them to the process experienced by those of us who are going through grief:

1.      Denial

2.      Anger

3.      Bargaining

4.      Depression

5.      Acceptance

What most people aren’t aware of, however, is that grief is not as simple as popular belief would tell you.

When experiencing grief, some people may go through all five stages in the exact order in which they’re listed, while others may go “out of order,” and others still may only experience one of these stages or even a stage that isn’t listed as part of the five. The five stages of grief are an excellent guide to navigating through grief, but they are not universally applicable to everyone.

The fourth stage of grief, depression, is often confused or conflated with grief. When people feel depressed, especially after a loss, they sometimes don’t realize that what they’re actually experiencing is only a stage in the grieving process and thus are unable to navigate the process as effectively. Nonclinical depression is a natural part of the grieving process experienced by many, and usually comes to a resolution over time.

If you find that your feelings of depression become persistent and pervasive, then it’s possible that you may be experiencing clinical depression (major depressive disorder). In the event that this occurs, it may be necessary to seek out a qualified mental health professional that can assess you for MDD.

Overcoming Grief

How can we tell when we’re overcoming grief? While there are many ways to tell if you are improving, here are just a few signs:

·         You can reflect on both pleasant and unpleasant memories of your loved one.

·         Sensitivity to comments decreases and reminders of your loss are less painful.

·         Feelings of guilt decrease and feelings of acceptance increase.

·         It’s easier to experience feelings of gratitude.



The point is this: grief is complicated and different for everyone. There is no timeline for getting better and it’s perfectly natural if you experience grief during the holidays. Remember that in time, these feelings will improve.

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