When grieving, do what feels right for you -- other people's expectations aren't relevant

In his latest Facebook Live session with Legacy, grief expert David Kessler compares death to the Grinch from Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas. For many grievers, that’s how death feels — like a thief who has stolen the joy from their lives — and the months leading up to the holidays are some of the hardest to get through.

Kessler notes that grievers are also often expected to find happy feelings in the holidays, which can actually make the grief even heavier as they pile others’ expectations on themselves.  

While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, Kessler offers his four top tips for dealing with grief around the holidays. As always, he encourages grievers to choose the suggestions that serve them best, as all may not apply to everyone.

Tip #1 – Free yourself from any demanding rituals.

While many people continue to find solace in the ritual of celebrating the holidays, other grievers don’t. Kessler reminds people that it’s ok to cancel their usual holiday celebration, or not attend a family gathering – if that’s what feels right. What matters the most is what you want, he says, especially during this difficult time of year. Same goes for giving gifts or sending holiday cards, or anything else a person usually does for the holidays. If it feels like pressure to give gifts, simply pardon yourself from the task and remember there is always next year.

Tip #2 – Don’t let others’ opinions on how you should cope compound your grief.

Friends and family will have a lot of well-meaning opinions and suggestions on what to do to get through the holidays, but Kessler reminds grievers that they don’t have to accept or follow those ideas. “Thank them, and then find your own way to do it,” he recommends. Setting aside others’ opinions will be especially hard for those who are used to pleasing others, but doing so will allow grievers to “attend to their own grieving” and do what’s best for them. (Relatedly, Kessler also recommends that those grievers who do go ahead and attend a holiday event should keep an exit strategy in mind in case they find themselves growing emotionally overwhelmed.)

Tip #3 – Include the loss in the holiday.

To Kessler, loss and the holidays have a symbiotic relationship – they exist together. That’s why he suggests grievers first tend to their loss and give themselves permission to do things in honor of their loved one, whether that means reaching out to support groups, going to the cemetery, or even dedicating time to share memories of their loved one on social media. Honoring their special person before tending to the rest of the holidays is a great way for grievers to recognize and embrace the grief instead of suppressing it.

Tip #4 – Help people understand you’re ok with talking about your loved one.

If grievers would like to talk about their loved ones during the holidays but notice their loved one’s name missing from the dinner table conversation, Kessler encourages people not to suppress their wish to talk about their special person. “Sometimes,” he says, “you might have to be the one to begin that [conversation].” Friends and family love sharing stories and memories, he says, but they want to first know it’s ok to do so. Kessler suggests grievers give those around them cues that they would like to talk about their loved one, like mentioning how much they miss that person, or recollecting a time they did or said something memorable. Doing so signals to others that it’s ok to talk about the person who is gone.