Supporting Different Grieving Styles During The Holidays

Written by

Kayleigh Feschuk

We’ve all heard the songs that play throughout the month of December: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” can be heard everywhere you go, from car stereos to department stores. It’s a time for family to come together and for joy to ripple through communities— for many, though, the holiday season can be one of the most emotionally complex and heavy times of the year. In this blog, we will explore the reasons why the holidays can be so difficult for those navigating life after loss. Most importantly, this blog will equip you to best support those around you that may be grieving this holiday season.

The 3 ways grief materialize in social settings

Before we identify the reasons why the holiday season could be so difficult, let’s first establish the framework for common coping mechanisms. Note that these coping mechanisms are not necessarily unhealthy, unless the person is leaning into one of these methods in excess. One may look one of three, or a combination of all three, ways during the holidays:

Type 1- Keeping busy. The grieving person may take on a work-focused, utilitarian role: for example, cleaning the kitchen in excess, running constant errands, or otherwise keeping busy enough to avoid participating in discussion around the house. 

Type 2- Withdrawal. The second method is withdrawing, either directly or discreetly, from social activities: for example, taking ample smoke breaks outside, frequently napping, or sitting on the couch silently scrolling on their phone. 

Type 3- Distraction. A grieving person may turn to social distraction to ease their feelings of sorrow: they may be the loudest or hardest-laughing person in the room, with their wine glass in hand and a smile nearly constantly plastered on their face. 

In many, albeit not all, instances, a grieving person is more willing to talk about their loss than it may come across. Mentioning the deceased person’s name naturally in conversation, or giving the grieving person the opportunity to feel listened to, can be instrumental in many cases to helping keep the deceased loved one’s spirit alive.

A clear absence in a crowded room

The holiday season, where so much is typically "right," can make the effects felt of what might be "wrong" all the more polarizing. During this time of year, there is a strong emphasis on joy, celebration, and togetherness, which can highlight the absence of a loved one who has passed away. The holiday traditions and festivities that were once shared with that person can serve as painful reminders of their absence.

How you can help: 

  • Type 1 grievers may be the most in tune with feelings of loneliness during the holidays. While they may not be withdrawing from the room, leaving them to be the sole cook or cleaner in the home could exacerbate the feelings of isolation that come so frequently with grief. Offer to help, and let their non-verbal cues be signals as to whether or not something like an occasional hug could feel nice. 
  • Type 2 grievers, while often sincerely seeking destimulation or peace and quiet, may be withdrawing due to a lack of helpful conversation. In larger social settings, it’s natural for conversation to deviate from topics of loss— but that natural deviation may not feel comforting for grieving people. Offering to chat with this person one on one, or simply providing them silent company, can allow them to lead the conversation or feel less alone.
  • Type 3 grievers may receive the most benefit from integrating the loved one’s name into happy or funny stories, or asking lighthearted follow-up questions when their name is brought up. Don’t shy away from conversation pertaining to the deceased— even if it’s strange for you, the deceased likely still feels very alive to the grieving person. 

Fast-draining social battery 

The holidays are often filled with family gatherings, parties, and social events, which can intensify feelings of loneliness, burn-out, and isolation for those who are grieving. Seeing others enjoying the company of their loved ones can amplify the sense of loss and longing for the person who is no longer there. It can be difficult to participate in cheerful activities when grief weighs heavily on the heart.

How you can help: 

  • Type 1: The utilitarian griever might not necessarily want your help with chores, but being proactive about other tasks they haven’t gotten around to doing can be a silent encouragement for them to relax. Remind the utilitarian griever that they don’t need to fake any emotions, that they’re loved no matter what, and that they’re welcome to enjoy the presence of friends and family, even if they feel upset.
  • Type 2: The griever that withdraws from a social setting may already be dealing with a depleted social battery. Grief can make you tired, so giving this person the time and space to rest as needed, or simply reminding them that they shouldn’t feel guilty for needing alone time, can help ease a heavy heart. Remind them that they’re welcome back to the room whenever they’re ready to return.
  • Type 3: These deal-by-distraction folks may not show it, but could be burning out. They may simply need to be reminded that it’s okay to take a break, or may need to be monitored slightly in terms of alcohol or other substance consumption. A great way to slow the pace down if you start noticing that a grieving person is taking it too far, is to suggest a walk-and-talk between you two and perhaps one other person. 

The stress of putting on a brave face

The pressure to be happy and festive during the holiday season can create additional stress for grieving individuals. They may feel expected to put on a brave face and engage in the usual holiday rituals, even when they don't feel emotionally ready or capable. This added pressure can exacerbate feelings of sadness and make it harder to process grief in a healthy way.

How you can help: 

  • Type 1: The utilitarian griever might be the most high-stress type of the three. Invite the house to acknowledge and thank this person for their efforts to make them feel appreciated, or simply invite them to take rest as needed. You can bring this person tea, water, coffee, or another beverage to show appreciation, and express to them that you would be happy to listen to them should they feel like talking. 
  • Type 2: Coaxing the withdrawing griever back into a crowded room may not always be the best practice, as quiet time to process can be very important. Instead, bring them dinner or dessert if they need it. Bringing them an extra blanket or giving them a hug can be a great way to comfort this person without forcing them to speak if they don’t feel ready to. Let them know that it’s okay to sit activities out.
  • Type 3: The grievers seeking distraction might be the most prone to the post-holiday blues, especially due to burnout. The support they will most likely need will come after the holidays. Call, bring them dinner, or stop in for coffee once the festivities are over— this may be the time this person will be needing extra love or a listening ear.


It is important to acknowledge and validate the struggles that grieving individuals face during the holiday season. There are an endless array of ways a grieving person can look or act during the holidays— providing them with careful and intentional support, understanding, and space to express their emotions can help ease some of the difficulty they may experience during this time. Encouraging self-care, offering a listening ear, and allowing them to grieve in their own way and at their own pace can make a significant difference in their ability to navigate through the holiday season while honoring their grief.