The holidays bring a host of expectations—socializing, honoring traditions, thoughtful gift giving, and creating treasured memories. These unwritten rules can be overwhelming, but when you’re grieving, they can seem even more so. Read on to learn my tips on how to have holiday joy in the midst of grief.

Grief and Joy are not mutually exclusive

Grief is a multifaceted emotion. It is an umbrella for many, many emotions: despair, anguish, loneliness, sorrow, deep sadness, rage, abandonment, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and fear—to name only a few.

Joy is a feeling of great happiness and pleasure. It’s what happens when you truly take delight and contentment in doing, seeing, or sharing something you love.

But how can these two polar opposites coexist? The answer to that is simple: As humans, we are capable of more than one emotion at a time. You are a vessel for an infinite amount of feelings—you don’t have to pick one. You’re allowed to experience sadness and joy, hurt and love, or even grief and hope at the same time.

Plan ahead for the holidays, mindfully

I addressed this in my Thanksgiving blog, but let’s take a moment to revisit some of the best ways to mindfully plan ahead.

Make a list of possible grief triggers. These triggers can be words, smells, sounds—any of the things that trigger the ocean of grief emotion.

Sit down and really ask yourself, what breaks you open? Before the holiday gathering, reflect on each item on your list of grief triggers. Recognize that it may result in a flood of emotion—and remind yourself that if the flood does come, it’s okay.

When making the list, relate to the potential emotion by asking, “What am I to learn when this comes up?” Very often, by preparing yourself in this manner prior to the event, the emotion is less intense.

Notify other attendees ahead of time to please don’t say, “How are you?”, but suggest instead that they ask, “How’s your grief?”

So many people do not know how to speak to someone who is grieving. I’ve found that many are grateful for the suggestion. And a bonus to this is, the person that you’ve given this gift of insight to will carry that information with them throughout their entire life, spreading better communication to their friends and family, who will then spread it to theirs. It’s a beautiful thing!

Prepare a story ally. Tell someone (perhaps the host/hostess) before the Thanksgiving gathering that you’d like to share a story about your deceased loved one. Ask them if they’d be willing to comment on what you share. That way, there won’t be an uncomfortable silence after you mention the deceased’s name.

This also encourages others to tell their stories and experiences with the loved one—and in my experience, that has led to laughter, tears, and a release of heaviness that makes the gathering even more special.

When you plan ahead, you can drastically diminish the anxiety of the unknown.

It’s okay to be okay.

We often hear the phrase ‘It’s okay to not be okay’, but here’s your reminder that you are allowed to be joyful. You are not disrespecting your loved one by being happy.

Experiencing joy does not mean you’re done missing them. Connecting with family, friends, and other special souls doesn’t mean that you’re eating away at the bond you shared. The place your heart holds for them can’t be eroded by happiness.

A great mental exercise is to think of your loyalty, love, and devotion to your person as a gorgeous work of art in your heart. It’s always there, always with you, and you can visit it whenever you want. It may even surprise you when you’re wandering the halls of your memories! Hanging other pieces of art around them will not diminish their beauty, but instead can strengthen the overall

Remember, you are capable of an infinite amount of emotions simultaneously. Your feelings are a symphony—intricate, complicated, and beautiful.

Write your loved one a holiday letter

If you find yourself missing your person even more during the holidays, remind yourself that this is to be expected. Many of our most treasured memories are created during special occasions, such as the holiday season and anniversaries.

This is a great time to use writing to heal trauma and grief. Writing a letter full of how you’re feeling, what you’d share with them if they were present, and recalling memories of holidays past is cathartic. It will allow you to release any overwhelming feelings you may be having, so that you can create space in your heart and mind for the joy of the season.

If you haven’t already, consider purchasing a special journal to house your letters and notes to your loved one.

Share the memories

Your instinct may be to shy away from talking about your loved one, but it’s okay to include them in your celebrations. Set aside time to recall your favorite holiday memories, put out special decorations, and even create an altar to their memory in the style of Dia de los Muertos.

Be authentically you

I’ve said it many times before, but it’s worth repeating: Be yourself! Choose to celebrate the holidays with those who encourage you to be you, without masking your emotions.

Love all around, above, below, to the left and to the right, before you and behind you,

If you’re struggling with the emotional process of grief...

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