Men & Grief – Surviving the Holidays

Throughout this series, we’ll examine some strategies to cope with grief in a healthy and healing way, as well as other related topics. Click here to read the first article, which begins to explain how we can define and manage grief, along with some common misconceptions about how we deal with it.

Grief is the very normal and natural reaction we all have when we lose someone or something that we love. People sometimes assume you only experience grief when someone you know has died. In fact, grief is usually felt when we lose anything (person, marriage, pet, relationship, job, our health, etc.) that was significant and meaningful in our life.

In our journey through grief, there will be some moments that are more difficult to bear than others. These moments, or hours, or days, seem to bring us right back to those initial heart-wrenching experiences when we feel the full weight and rawness of our loss all over again. These events are called grief triggers or activators. These triggering experiences are like waves of grief that often surface around a birthday, the anniversary of a death, or special occasions. This is especially true about the holidays.

Holiday time without our loved one(s) can be particularly challenging, especially if our loss is more recent. Therefore, it’s important to be extra attentive regarding our emotional well-being, self-care, and organization of essential supports during this time of year.

Here are 10 things to consider as you head into the holiday season:

1. No Rules. No matter how you’ve celebrated holidays in the past, recognize that this year may be different. Don’t over-commit and insist that things “have to be” as they’ve always been. Stay flexible.

2. Preparation. Holidays often revolve around traditions, so plan in advance what rituals you feel comfortable keeping, what seems too much, and what might need to change.

3. Allow. During the celebrations, you may naturally experience moments of joy, along with your grief. Try not to feel guilty for mixed emotions, and allow room for yourself to feel what you are feeling moment-to-moment. Your happiness in no way diminishes or negatively reflects on the relationship or the grief you feel for your loved one(s).

4. Remember. Everyone experiences and expresses grief in their own way. Try not to judge; focus on accepting and accommodating the differences of people around you.

5. Children. After a loss, the holidays can present a confusing time for kids as they experience conflicting emotions. Allow and encourage them to express their feelings. Share age-appropriate information and use direct language. Keeping to their normal schedule as much as possible helps them feel secure. Try to be prepared for unpredictable behaviours.

6. Ask for help. If you are feeling overwhelmed, get support. This could mean asking a family member to cook the turkey, calling a close friend to talk, or even reaching out to a professional.

7. Boundaries. Parties, gifts, cards, decorations and dinners; the holidays can be an exhausting time. Be selective about where and with whom you spend your precious energies.

8. Memories. Look for ways you can honour and celebrate the memory of the deceased. Create a new family tradition, put photos out, cook a sentimental meal, share stories, visit the gravesite, or give to a special charity. 

9. Self-care. In addition to carefully managing your time and energies, lean into the grief coping skills that are most effective for you (e.g. taking a walk, journaling, listening to music, meditating, a hot bath, practicing yoga, having a massage or exercising).

10. Compassion. Be kind to yourself. Recognize you are hurting and in pain; there’s no need for a brave face. Having compassion for yourself means that you accept your humanness and actively choose to comfort and care for yourself in that moment.

This is the second in a series of articles for Men & exploring the wide-ranging topics of grief and loss. Click here to read the first article.

Men &

Alberta Health Services Grief Support Program

Calgary Area Distress Centre


  • Andrew Gustainis

    Andrew is a dedicated mental health professional providing assessment, intervention and case management to youth, adults, and families presenting with a wide range of psycho-social, interpersonal and relational issues. His specialty involves relationships, parenting, family violence, anger management, grief and trauma with a specific focus on youth and men in crisis.

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