Holiday Grief, Guilt Normal for Those Who’ve Lost Loved Ones

For some, holiday cheer may be hard to muster this season, especially if a person has experienced the loss of a loved one. Between memories and holiday traditions, many wonder how they’ll make it through the holiday season without their loved one, sometimes even feeling guilty.

“This is the time of year families traditionally get together,” says Dr. Britta Ostermeyer, chief, Psychiatry, Ben Taub General Hospital, part of the Harris County Hospital District. “We count the faces around the table and we notice those who are not here, and it hurts.”

Dr. Ostermeyer says she sees many patients who express concern of deepening grief for the upcoming holiday season, they dread the time as more feelings of grief, pain, sadness, emptiness and anger emerge.

“The holidays are a part of normal life and it’s OK to feel guilty. Those feelings are normal and understandable,” says Dr. Ostermeyer. “There’s no need to pretend to be happy, just be you.”

Friends and family can also offer support by being good listeners — allowing the grieving person to cry and letting them know it’s OK to show feelings. While some may not talk about the loss to the grieved person out of concern, sometimes not bringing up the person is hurtful, so don’t be afraid to share a favorite memory.

Dr. Ostermeyer offers the following suggestions to help grieved family members through the holiday:

• Acknowledge your feelings, be true to yourself. You do not have to feel a certain way, give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling.

• Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically, manage your stress level and balance your grief.

• Don’t be shy to ask for help and support from others. The holiday season is about sharing and giving.

• Try to make a meaningful holiday contribution and make a difference by volunteering.

• Create new traditions, such as lighting a candle in your loved one’s memory. New traditions can help cope with loss.

If people are in a depressed mood and suffering from loss of interest, impairment of daily activities and functions, changes in appetite, memory problems, and fatigue, they may be suffering from depression and should seek professional mental health services.

“Remember that the holidays will pass and you will make it through. You do not have to pretend to enjoy it; just try to have a good time. And if happiness slips through the grief, allow for it to happen,” says Dr. Ostermeyer. “Your loved one would want for you to be happy.”



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