Grief during celebratory times

How to navigate difficult feelings during joyful, holiday, or celebration times



Grief can be unpredictable and challenging. This is especially true when we experience grief during times or events that are meant to be joyful, fun, or happy. If a loved one has recently died, the the first holidays, birthday, child, wedding, or other meaningful events can be especially difficult. The following is a list of reasons why you may experience grief during celebratory times:

  • the event reminds you of a loss you have experienced (a parent who is absent, a family separation, fertility challenges, a friend who has died)

  • your family cannot celebrate together

  • it is near a death or loss anniversary

  • those you spend the celebration with are unkind, mean, or abusive you

  • you are asked to choose between yourself and the person/family celebrating

  • you are grieving the loss of the life/family you thought you had in exchange for being more aligned with the reality of what/who they are

  • the celebration is in honor of something that you want and do not or will never have (an engagement, a baby, a wedding, etc.)


The more we resist the presence of grief, the more difficult it is to experience joy. Our surrounding culture often tries to deny or suppress grief in an attempt to permit only pleasurable emotions. This attitude toward "less pleasant" or "undesirable" emotions harms us in many ways: it dishonors a full human experience, it offends our hearts when they have loved and lost, it robs us of our vitality by stealing energy and spending it on denial and resistance. Experiencing grief is central to our humanity and denying ourselves the process is detrimental.


Rather than deny, reject, resist, or ignore, we can embrace, allow, accept, and align with our grief. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, when we allow for the flow of our emotions, the process of grieving actually takes less time and energy. It's like changing gears on your bicycle when you go up a hill - you are in correct alignment with what is happening, so it is easier to do the difficult thing.


Here are practices that can make the experience of grief during celebratory times easier:

  • learn the patterns of your grief so you can better predict when it will be present

  • find a way to honor loved ones you have lost - place an item that represents them in your decorating, write a letter to them, make their favorite food, tell stories about them, mention things they would do or say if they were there

  • plan time/make space to feel your feelings of sadness, loss, and bittersweet life

  • allow yourself to: feel your feelings, to cry, to be held, to sleep, to leave early, to change your plans

  • tell people who you love and trust that the event is bittersweet and, if desired, tell them how they can support you

  • make sure to focus on basic needs: food, sleep, and loving touch

  • determine what needs you have during the celebration (i.e. alone time, social time, games, distraction, discussion of the loss) and make a plan to honor your needs


Grief is one of the most difficult emotional experiences. It moves at it's own pace and comes and goes as it pleases. One minute you can be completely fine and happy and the next minute you're sobbing. You can be elated for the success or celebration of a loved one and, at the same time, devastated for your own loss. This is the nature of grief. While we need to leave room for the timing and wisdom of grief, there are practices and rituals we can put in place in order to make the experience easier for ourselves.


May these suggestions ease your pain and support your needs next time you are in this type of experience. If you are struggling with a loss and are unsure how to honor yourself through the experience, you may want to seek out support. If you would like to find out if I would be a good support for you, I invite you to contact me.

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