holiday grief planner

Grief-Sensitive Winter Holiday Planner: Free Download To Help You Cope

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: October 31, 2023

Grief changes the holiday landscape, but it doesn't have to dictate it. With compassionate planning, we can find a way to honor both our loss and ourselves during this season.

The holiday season is often heralded as a time of joy and togetherness, but when you're grieving, it can transform into a stretch of weeks filled with heightened emotions and conflicting feelings. The laughter and lights can clash with the ache you're carrying, leaving you torn between the desire to participate and the need to retreat.

When Your Holidays Are Touched by Loss

I know firsthand how grief can shroud the holidays in darkness. In 1977, my family experienced the loss of my uncle Doug, who died by suicide on October 18th. That first holiday season without him was painfully awkward. Some family members wanted to remember Doug openly, while others could hardly bear to mention his name. Our traditions felt hollow, our interactions strained. But as the years passed, we learned to navigate our way to a meaningful holiday experience—although, we still miss him to this day.

Grief brings a complex array of emotions to the surface, and the holidays only amplify this. You might feel guilty for experiencing joy, or conversely, feel isolated because you can't share in the happiness around you. One important thing to remember is that the holiday season is temporary. If you decide to forego traditions that are too painful this year, know that you can reintroduce them when you're ready, in a way that honors both your loved one and your own emotional state.

The Importance of Being Kind to Yourself when Emotions Arise

Kindness starts from within. In moments of overwhelm, a simple but powerful self-compassion exercise can be to place your hand on your heart and remind yourself, "This is hard, and I'm doing my best." This act grounds you and makes room for your feelings, without judgment.

Having a plan for responding to overwhelming emotions can be a lifesaver. Maybe that's a breathing exercise, a walk, or an encouraging mantra—whatever offers you a moment of respite. Equally important is to schedule regular check-ins with a supportive person. Knowing that you have a dedicated time to share your feelings can be incredibly reassuring. So, get it on your calendar—be it a meeting with a clinician, a call to your bestie, or a group session.

Get The Grief Sensitive Holiday Planner

How to Use Your Grief-Sensitive Winter Holiday Planner

Your planner is meticulously designed to accommodate both your practical needs and your emotional nuances. While grief may not adhere to a calendar, it does ebb and flow. Holidays can intensify feelings of loss, but they also present an opportunity for you to reflect on love, loss, and the human experience's intricate emotional landscape. Through mindful planning and deep self-compassion, you can traverse this season in a way that feels emotionally balanced and authentically you.

Honoring Your Feelings

Before diving into planning, take a quiet moment to acknowledge and validate your feelings about the upcoming holiday season. It's okay to have mixed emotions—many do.

Coping Skills

A checklist of quick-to-access coping mechanisms becomes a vital resource during the holiday stress. This easily accessible list, maybe stored on your phone, equips you to swiftly manage emotional spikes and valleys, empowering you in moments of need.

Self-Care Practices

Outline your self-care routine using a straightforward chart. This visualization encourages you to prioritize your well-being during this season when emotions can run high. Having it in written form helps hold you accountable to yourself.

Emotional Support

  • Friends: Identify compassionate friends who provide emotional safety. These are the people who get you and respect your boundaries.
  • Family: Choose the family members who genuinely offer emotional support, even if they are few and far between.
  • Professionals: Don't overlook therapists, counselors, or grief coaches who can offer you targeted emotional support.
  • Support Groups: A community of people who share your experience can offer a unique and meaningful form of support.
  • Communities: Online spaces, religious groups, or local organizations can offer a fresh perspective and an extended emotional support network.

Schedule Time to Connect

After you've identified your support network, actively schedule time to connect with them. These planned interactions become grounding touchpoints that can anchor you through the holiday season.

Dealing with Holiday Events

Craft a well-thought-out script to help you decline invitations when needed. Being prepared relieves some of the emotional labor involved in saying no, freeing you to focus on your self-care journey.

Your Holiday Traditions: Keep, Modify, or Release

Examine your existing traditions with a fresh lens. Decide what aligns with your current emotional state and make intentional choices. This reflective process allows you to reclaim your holiday experience on your terms.

Crafting New Traditions: Honoring Memories and Evoking Feelings

  • Favorite Holiday Memory: Take a few quiet moments to reminisce on a cherished holiday memory with your loved one.
  • Circle Desired Feelings: Utilize your word cloud of positive feelings to hone in on the emotions you'd like your new tradition to evoke.
  • Brainstorm a New Tradition: With your selected feelings as a guide, brainstorm ideas for a new tradition that pays tribute to your loved one and provides you with emotional comfort.

Get The Grief Sensitive Holiday Planner

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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