Surviving the Holidays When You’ve Lost a Loved One

Surviving the Holidays When You’ve Lost a Loved One
Written by Sherri Bergmann

Even though Christmas is a favorite time of year for many, others dread the holiday season for various reasons. However, for those who have lost a loved one and are facing the celebrations without them for the first time, it can feel especially depressing.


Sue McMahon, leader of GriefShare, a ministry at Foothills Church that helps those who have experienced a loss journey from mourning to joy, offers tips to help get through this difficult time.

  • PREPARE — The ambush of emotions can attack at any time; prepare beforehand.
  • ACCEPT the difficulty of this time of year and your loss. — Remind yourself that it’s a season and it will pass.
  • SOCIALIZE — Don’t hibernate. Insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate, but force yourself to go out even if it’s only for a short time.
  • LOWER your expectations — Movies and songs paint an unrealistic picture of the holidays.
  • DON’T ANESTHETIZE the pain with drugs or alcohol — Numbing emotional distress with chemicals creates more depression.
  • TRIMMING — If old ornaments or trimmings cause too much pain, don’t hang them this year. Put them aside for another time.
  • GET UP AND MOVE — Take care of your physical well-being. Healthy foods will give you strength; fattening and sugar-filled foods can worsen your depression. Exercise produces natural stress reducers.
  • SHOP online — This option can help if going to the mall is too stressful.
  • COPING STRATEGY — Have the phone number of your counselor, pastor, church, close friend or hotline taped to your phone. Commit to call someone if negative thoughts get fierce.
  • LIGHT — Get some sunshine. Winter’s reduced sunshine hours can take a toll on your emotions.
  • INVITE — Ask a new (same-sex) friend to see a movie, have dinner or help decorate the house.
  • SET BOUNDARIES — Precisely explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren’t. Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.
  • REACH OTHERS — Discover people who might be alone during the holidays.

Have you experienced loss this year? GriefShare will remind you that over time things will get better.  McMahon has seen people start to heal after attending a couple of weeks. For more information, call 530-651-4994 or visit  


There are many people who, like you, are walking through this season having just lost a loved one.  You are not alone, because Jesus is there to walk with you.

In Matthew 5:4 Jesus promised: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. He has given Himself to comfort us. He has given the Holy Spirit to comfort us. And He has given us others to comfort us.

If you want to help someone who has lost a loved one, Christian author Steven Sewell offers the following tips:

  • ENCOURAGE a thankful heart. Help them see their life has been touched by turmoil – but not entirely!
  • DO SOMETHING to express your own heart. As often as you think of them, call or text! Offer “more than a meal,” childcare, visit and pray with them.
  • EMPATHIZE, such as “I don’t know what to say…”                                
  • PRACTICE THE ART OF PRESENCE. Open your heart and listen.
  • LET THEM MOURN. Accept their grief, don’t try to fix it.
  • HELP THEM COPE with their grief together. Ways to do that: create a memory board together, attend a prayer vigil with them, create ornaments, watch their favorite movie, visit the cemetery, frame a scripture.

Sewell also advises to be on the lookout – severe or aggravated depression may look like nothing at first. Help the bereaved to create a plan for the holidays. Some traditions can be “on hold” this year such as decorating, making big meals, or whatever may seem overwhelming.  

For Sewell’s books on grieving and to receive more advice, visit


Some Christians are especially burdened with a fear that their loved one isn’t in Heaven. Some are troubled that their loved one may not have had a chance to repent and turn to Jesus. But popular Christian author of Heaven, Randy Alcorn, pointed out(see footnote) there can be a possibility at the end of  a loved one’s life that they could have been saved. Not to point out false hope, but that it is a possibility.

I can personally testify to this. My father was a homosexual and caught AIDS in the 80s. My mother asked our pastor  to visit him. After a few days of visits, Dad revealed he had felt a voice telling him to stop his homosexual lifestyle, but he went ahead and did as he wanted, even with the risk that his behavior could have killed my mother and others. He was that blind. However, he admitted to the pastor he lived a wrong life, regretted what he did, and prayed with the pastor.  While my father was in a coma in the hospital, shrunken to a skeleton frame and completely unresponsive to those around him, the health staff reported that he mumbled as if he were talking to someone and repeatedly said, “Hallelujah. Praise God.”

Our God – who can do anything – can work even in our final moments, regardless of the depth of sin we are in.

If you have witnessed to an unbeliever while they are dying and have prayed for them, remember God hears your prayers. They are an incense in His bowl in heaven (Rev. 5:8).  Your witness and prayers can make the difference.  If they died after you have talked to them, remember that God’s truth may have ignited faith in them.

If we are unable to talk with an unbeliever before they die, remember that God knows their thoughts and the condition of their heart. Like the criminal on the cross who realized the truth, and during his dying breaths repented and asked for a pardon — Jesus knew his heart and gave him the ticket to Paradise.


Even in the midst of grief, holiday gatherings provide a special time to make the most of the time we have with those who are alive now.  This is a season to rejoice in the love we share with them and celebrate the real reason for the season.
Footnote: Randy Alcorn:
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