Having a happy holiday with Dr. Josh: Coping with grief

The first holiday season following the death of a loved one can be tough. A UAB psychologist has some suggestions for coping.

Josh Klapow 2017 verticalJosh Klapow, Ph.D.Holiday messages portray a season wrapped in warmth, love and good cheer. For many, however, it can be a time of sadness and grief, says University of Alabama at Birmingham psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D.

“The death of a loved one during the holidays can trigger strong feelings, even if the death occurred several years ago,” said Klapow, a clinical psychologist in the UAB School of Public Health. “In the case of someone who died recently, the holidays can take on a whole new meaning for their family and friends.”Klapow offers suggestions that can help ease those feelings.

  • Remember that this holiday season might not be the same as those of past years. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. There is no right or wrong way — people should celebrate and grieve when they want.
  • Accept that this might be a difficult time, and be prepared for rushes of emotions. This is normal. A lot of people fear they will “break down” at holiday gatherings. Try to schedule breakdowns — go ahead and have a cry before going out. Allow a moment to grieve. When emotions are temporarily depleted, it makes it easier to take on the day.
  • Do not overcommit. Take time for yourself without becoming isolated. Embrace support from family and friends, and choose events that sound most appealing at the time. Decline ones that feel like an obligation.
  • If observing old traditions is too painful, then make new ones in memory of the lost loved one. Volunteer with a charitable group, change your holiday decorations, or switch up the holiday schedule and routine.
  • If faith is important, spend time with people who understand and respect a desire to pray and talk about common beliefs.