Loss In Its Many Forms: Coping During the Holidays

Grief and loss can feel prominent around the holidays as we miss the presence of loved ones who have died. You may also be experiencing grief without having experienced the death of a loved one. Many areas of our lives can contribute to feelings of loss.

 You may be experiencing loss in the form of:






A Child Leaving Home

We naturally create narratives in our minds about important parts of our lives, such as partnership or having a family. These ‘stories’ often paint a picture of what we anticipate for our lives. For example, we may imagine how many children we will have or that we will grow old with our spouse. The holidays are a common time of year to imagine our story.

Just as the absence of a loved one due to death can feel especially sore during the holidays, so can a missing piece of “the plan.” Heartache can be felt in the absence of the baby you long for, the partner you’ve spent the last 20 years with, or a beloved neighborhood where you used to live.

Grief of all kinds requires our patience as we wade through the turbulent waters.

Here are three strategies that may help the pain of grief and loss during the holidays.

Present Moment Awareness

‘Being’ in the present moment can be hard when there is emotional pain. The pain of grief is often why we may choose avoidance as a way of coping – such as pushing down upsetting emotions, turning to things that make us feel good in the moment but maybe less so in the long run, or directing all of our time to work or others distractions. The tricky part with avoidance is that grief and loss persist after the distraction inevitably ends. As an alternative, practicing showing up for our pain can help.

Steps like these are an example of how we could begin to practice connecting with the present moment:

Start slow, if only for a few breaths at a time, naming emotion and bodily sensations occurring in the moment (for example, sadness, despair, tension or constriction).

Gently breathe into that experience, without trying to make it ‘go away’ or be different.

Practice being with the experience, as it is, one moment at a time.

With consistent practice, we may notice that the intensity of emotion begins to lessen.



As we practice present moment awareness, we can be intentional about turning toward pain with kindness and understanding. Self-compassion invites us to mindfully recognize that there is pain in this moment, and to offer ourselves nurturing and support because we are in pain.

 Steps for practice could include:

Pausing to recognize that this is a painful moment. Deep loss is felt.

Placing a hand over the heart, feeling the warmth of soothing touch.

Offering nurturing words, such as “this is really hard right now.”

The aim is not to get ‘rid’ of pain, but to use the power of self-compassion to help us tap into our resilience and befriend our experience.

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”

– Christopher K. Germer, Ph.D.


Seek Gratitude

As we long for the past or worry about the future, our minds can easily drift away from what is happening right now (i.e., the present moment). Just as returning to the present moment can help us work toward softening and befriending pain, it can also help us connect to sources of joy and gratitude that may be right in front of us.

 Consider these steps to connect with gratitude these holidays:

Awareness: Name something you are grateful for in this moment.

Appreciation: What does it add to your life?

Attribution: Who do you attribute this to? (e.g., a person, nature, faith)

Expressing the gratitude that we feel for someone can help strengthen the relational bond with that person (Algoe, 2012). Consider expressing gratitude this holiday season to support connection with the present and the building of strong relationships.


Closing Note & Support

May we experience this holiday season with patience, understanding, and grace for ourselves and others.

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Reference: Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Compass.