Day #3 of the 12 Days of Coping with Christmas

by Karla Helbert

For those of us in grief, the holidays are most definitely not the most wonderful time of the year. No matter how long it has been since your beloved died.

It has been nearly 13 years since my son, Theo, died of a brain tumor when he was just a baby and the holidays continue to be a struggle for me in many ways. If you are in early grief—and by early, I mean the first year, second year, third year, sometimes further in—the holidays can be excruciating.

Thank you, Anne Moss, for offering this series of coping strategies for the holidays. So many of us in grief are in need of ways to make it through this season.

The third coping strategy is “Make a Plan”

As a therapist, I rarely give advice, it’s my job to help people find their own answers, but when it comes to grief, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to have a plan for the holidays. Taking the time to come up with a plan for how you will deal with the holiday season may be very painful, but having a plan will be one of the best things you can do for yourself to help yourself manage the pain of this upcoming season. Very early in grief, a friend of mine whose daughter died told me, “Have a plan. You don’t have to stick to the plan, but have it anyway.” It may be the single best piece of advice given to me as a bereaved parent. While I generally stay away from advice giving, that one piece of advice is worth giving and worth following.

Tips for Coming up With Your Plan:

Spend some time thinking about how you and your family usually spend the holidays. What family traditions occur year after year? What do you think those traditions and rituals will be like this year? How will you cope?

Make some decisions about your family’s holiday traditions

  • Make a list of ones you think you might want to participate in.
  • Make a list of those you think you cannot face this year.
  • Make a list of traditions you think you may be able to, might want to, or might be able to participate in.

This works best if you write it down on paper or type it on your phone, tablet or computer. Writing it down helps clarify thoughts and feelings.

  • Think of ways you can honor your beloved in current family traditions.
  • Think of new ways to honor your beloved’s memory.
  • Decide whether you’d like to involve other family members.

Regardless of family members who may be uncomfortable thinking about or talking about death, it is okay to include your beloved dead. You might participate in acts of kindness in their memory, donate to a charity in her name, light a special candle at family meals, place a photo of him in a place of honor, volunteer over the holiday, give small mementos to friends and family that remind them of her.

Give yourself permission to:

  • grieve
  • cry
  • have fun
  • laugh if you feel like it
  • be flexible
  • what you need to do
  • leave when you need to leave
  1. Identify your support system and let them know you may need extra help
  2. Have plans A, B, C, D, and so on if you need to.
  3. Include self-care in your plan—massage, walks, relaxing baths, exercise, sleep
  4. Know that it’s okay to not follow your plan or to change it anytime you want

I have created this graphic for you to follow as a guide for things to think about. Be mindful of and note your thoughts, your feelings, and your reactions. You may come up with all sorts of things you reject, and you may discover some things that may really resonate.

My wish for you is a season that is as peaceful as possible. I know it will be hard, and I am so sorry that this is your reality. I am sending you love.

You can also visit Karla’s website for a longer version of “How to Make a Plan,” and you’ll find downloadable, printable worksheets at the bottom of that linked page to help you figure out how to make your plan.

Download the above plan visual via pdf

Karla Helbert is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), internationally certified yoga therapist, (C-IAYT), registered yoga teacher (RYT), award winning author, and a Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider certified through the MISS Foundation, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust. and the Center for Loss & Trauma. Counseling and supporting those living with traumatic grief and bereavement is her main focus of work. Her book, Yoga for Grief and Loss is below.

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Karla Helbert

Karla is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), internationally certified yoga therapist, (C-IAYT), registered yoga teacher (RYT), award winning author, and a Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider certified through the MISS Foundation, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust. and the Center for Loss & Trauma. Counseling and supporting those living with traumatic grief and bereavement is her main focus of work.

2 thoughts on “Day #3 of the 12 Days of Coping with Christmas”

  1. So good Karla – it makes me think that there is one tradition that my husband and I can dispose of, yet we have continued to agonizingly do it every year since.
    My son died 5 days before Christmas – his presents were already wrapped and under the tree. We sat on Christmas day, still in shock and opened them. It was a horror show.
    We still sit under the tree and open presents to each other. It’s getting easier, but I would just like to avoid the whole scene – it’s a landmine.
    Maybe this year, we’ll open them on a different day, in a different room…..

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