Coping With Loneliness and Holidays

Loneliness is yet another aspect of grief that seems to have different stages. Holidays can present additional challenges. Being apart from loved ones on holidays is already difficult. The loneliness experienced on holidays is even greater if the loved one is recently deceased. This page provides information on coping with loneliness and holidays after the loss of a loved one.

Image of a female looking through a rain-washed window at a butterfly on the other side.

Coping With Loneliness

Initially, a person may feel somewhat mad or bitter toward the person who caused the loneliness. Physically, there may be a sensation of emptiness. Emotionally, there may be a feeling of time being suspended, being forsaken, abandoned, and isolated. There may be a longing for the deceased.

Loneliness is a universal condition of human life, which is distinctly personally felt. To love is to be lonely. Every love eventually is broken by illness, separation, or death. One cannot be a sensitive individual without knowing loneliness.

During the period of mourning, a person may feel intensely lonely. This is to be expected. With time, they will be better able to cope with their losses, and feelings of loneliness will lessen.

When feeling lonely, one can look inward for stimulation. Activities can be done alone that will help one feel less lonely. Examples of activities may include:

  • Reading
  • Going for a walk
  • Exercising
  • Cleaning
  • Keeping a journal
  • Listening to music
  • Starting a project
  • Enjoying art

One can also reach out to others. Examples may include:

  • Joining a club
  • Taking a class
  • Talking with friends
  • Volunteer work
  • Plan an outing
  • Church involvement

Loneliness can be positive. A person experiencing loneliness gains a deeper perception, greater awareness, and higher sensitivity to self and others. It can be a time of personal growth. Accept it, face it, live with it, and let it be.

Coping With Holidays After The Loss Of A Loved One

Holidays are filled with traditions including family and loved ones. Your loss can significantly change the way that you will experience the holiday season. In fact, the very thought of going through the holidays without your loved one may be frightening and painful. Here are some suggestions that will help you through the holiday season.

  • Be reasonable about your own expectations. Try to keep things in their proper perspective.
  • Accept the fact that the holiday will have its difficult moments. Allow yourself to experience them and tell yourself that you will be able to cope.
  • Simplify your activities. Try not to overwhelm yourself by keeping in close touch with your resources and limits.
  • Do what you are comfortable with. Your needs are most important at this time. There are no rights or wrongs.
  • Don't be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Find caring, supportive people who will listen and who will encourage you to be yourself.
  • Be patient with yourself if you become angry or envious of others enjoying holiday festivities. It is very difficult to witness the joy of others when you are experiencing the loss of the source of joy in your life.
  • Take time to recall and savor memories of holidays past. These memories are an expression of your love which do not end with death.
  • Keep your family and friends informed of your thoughts, feelings, and wishes for the holiday season. Don't assume that they understand what you are going through unless you tell them.
  • Plan something to honor the memory of your loved one (a candle, a donation, an activity, etc.).
  • Allow other loved ones to offer their support and care for you. Avoid people who make you feel uncomfortable or who are not helpful.
  • Anticipation of the holiday is often more stressful that the holiday itself. Remind yourself as often as necessary that you will get through this experience.
  • Express your faith. Turning your attention to the true meaning of the holiday can be comforting.
  • Look inward, outward, and assess your situation. Celebrate your moments of coping and achievement. Look for positive things around you.
  • Take one at a time.
  • Give yourself a special pat on the back for coping with the holiday stress.

Gerstenberg Hospice Center, 5300 East Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL.

Silhouette of a male with his head in his hand in front of a decorated, lit Christmas tree.

Hints For Handling Holidays

Many bereaved families dread this season of holidays, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years. These are happy times and others' hearts are filled with thanksgiving and joy in an atmosphere of celebration.

Often, the time of preparation and anticipation brings as much joy as the actual celebration. The anticipation of the holidays, especially in the first year after the death of your loved one, will probably present you with many questions and concerns.

It is normal to have anxiety and fears about this "time of joy". Planning ahead can lessen some of the stress and pain of the holiday season. Here are a number of suggestions for your consideration.


  • There is no right or wrong way to respond.
  • Others may not understand your decisioins, but that doesn't make them right or wrong.
  • Your emotions will be more volatile during the holidays and you are not able to turn them on and off. You need to release those tears. Cry.
  • Communication with others is helpful, even when the other person does not seem to understand.
  • Some holiday activities are essential to the celebration, while others could be eliminated.
  • Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to not live up to everyone's expectations.
  • You can't run away from reality, but you can soften the pain by considering each decision and respecting your own needs.

Specific Areas Of Concern And Decision

  • Plan ahead. Listen to your heart and only do those things that feel right to you. Communicate your needs to your family and friends.
  • Changing routines that are part of your tradition can soften the pain; the time of gift exchange and opening gifts; the special meal together and/or when you attend services.
  • Include a stocking for the person who has died and incite other family members to participate in filling the stocking. Light a candle at the dinner table. Place an ornament on the tree and/or a grave blanket on the grave.
  • Make choices about decorating for the season and shopping for gifts (order through the mail, limit the number of gifts, or have someone else do that for you). Having a shopping list can lessen the pain.
  • Delegate or accept the offer of others to help wrap gifts, address cards, shop, clean. It could be a meaningful gift that is mutually beneficial.
  • Consider and decide which party invitations you wish to accept and attend. If the person inviting understands why you may not feel like attending this year, they will usually accept your response.
  • Be in touch with your own feelings and needs. Be gentle with yourself and know that it is all right if you do not please everyone.
  • The need to talk about your feelings and needs is greater at this time. Find a listening partner to help you through it. Do not isolate yourself. You need others to help you through this difficult time.
  • Realize that you can change your mind. If earlier decisions don't feel right as the time approaches, then don't follow through.
  • Sign your greeting cards in a way that feels right to you. You may wish to include a poem or writing done in memory of your loved one or include an "in memory of..." message as part of your signature.

Helpful Resource Booklets

  • "Handling the Holidays" by Bruck Conley. Available through Human Services Press, P.O. Box 2423, Springfield, Illinois, 62705, (217) 528-1756.
  • "Feeling Depressed at Christmastime, A Care Note" by List Engelhardt. Available from The One Caring Place, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, Indiana, 47577.