Q&A series – Why Are Holidays So Hard?

by Jan McDaniel

Holidays happen all year round. But why are they so hard, especially after loss? The answer to that question is both simple and complex and lies within the human brain and our experiences.

After a significant loss, everything is different, but sights and sounds that are stored in the brain from years of mostly pleasant associations and from general, cultural experiences as well as our personal experiences make neural pathways that connect the present to the past. In other words, we expect things to be the same as we have experienced them before. No where is this more fundamental than when we think of holidays of different types.

When this can’t happen because a loved one is no longer with us, expectations can’t be met; the conflict that results causes pain and confusion. We feel that something is wrong on a physical level. And, of course, we know what that something is. A loved one is not here, and we long for that person to be in his or her accustomed place.

Holidays are just hard. And they will be for some time to come. Even after much healing and rebuilding takes place, bittersweet memories will always be with us because we loved and love the person who used to be such a big part of our life. Especially in the early years post-loss, others celebrate and sometimes seem to forget our pain while we dread or try to avoid what we used to enjoy.

Each person is different. Each grief journey is unique. And all of us can do things to ease facing a holiday. Holidays happen all year. With that in mind, I have put together a Holiday Planner with suggestions. I hope it will be useful to you all year long.

Holiday Planner  – Click the link to download the .PDF file (it’s free). And visit my Resources page to find other free materials that can help you with self-care, children who are grieving, and more.

​Be patient. Be gentle with yourself. And know you are not alone.

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