Tis The Season: Coping With The Holidays

BY: Diane Snyder Cowan
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss​

For years I have been writing an annual column on coping with the holidays. Each year I get asked, “How will I ever get through the holidays?”  For so many bereaved, this will be the first holiday season without their deceased love one. The first year is difficult. The second and third year can be pretty tough too.

The first year, things may seem surreal. Perhaps you decided to take a vacation or have dinner at your Auntie’s home. You may still be in a fog. Then the second or third holiday season comes around and reality sets in. Your deceased love one will not be present. If you always had Christmas dinner at mom’s or potato latkes at Aunt Marsha’s, you may now have to be the host of such gatherings. Although you start a new tradition, you still can honor your loved one. Cook a favorite dish, take time to share stories, or give to a charity in honor of him or her.

The glitz and glitter in the stores, the holiday specials on TV, the celebratory foods, the music, as well as secular and religious events combine to offer the bereaved a roller coaster ride of emotions.  What can one do?!

Kenneth Doka writes about the “3 c’s” of coping with the holidays – choose, communicate, compromise. Choose what you want to do.  Communicate your choices (especially if it affects them). And compromise. We each cope with stress and grief in our own way. There can be five adult children who have differing ideas on how to celebrate without mom. Talk it out.

My favorite holiday story is that of a woman who told me she decorated her Christmas tree with her mother’s costume jewelry. That tribute must have been a spectacular and dazzling sight.

Here’s a list of suggestions we offer in the bereavement center.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Do what you want, not what you feel you should do.
  • Surround yourself with those who are supportive and understanding.
  • Lower your expectations during the holiday season.
  • Allow someone else to do the baking, cooking and decorating this year.
  • If you go to an event, take your own car so that you can leave when you choose.
  • Shop using catalogs or the Internet or don’t shop at all this year!
I have always encouraged folks to take their own car to events throughout the year so they can make an early departure. Now I add, park in the street so your car doesn’t get blocked in the driveway. There’s nothing like trying making a quick getaway when you have to ask 3 people to move their car!

Most importantly – be as kind to yourself as you would be a grieving friend.

Wishing you peace in your heart and peace in the world.



About Diane Snyder Cowan​
Diane Snyder Cowan is the director of Western Reserve Grief Services.

She oversees the hospice and bereavement programs and expressive therapy. Diane is a Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Administrator and a Board Certified Music Therapist.

She currently serves as the Section Leader for the Bereavement Professional Section of the National Council of Hospice and Palliative Professionals and previously served on the Board of Directors of the Certification Board for Music Therapy.

Diane has presented on music therapy and grief and loss throughout the country and has written for many publications on music therapy and on grief and loss.

She strives to provide support and education to grieving individuals and those who work with them.