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Coping with the Holidays after a Death

Updated: Mar 31

By Nicole Rhodes

Thanksgiving. Hanukkah. Christmas.

All lovely holidays, rich in connection and tradition … they’re also a lot of work! When you are grieving a new - or not so new death - mustering the energy to do all the things can require marathon-level effort throughout the holiday season. In addition to the pressure we put on ourselves to do things *exactly* how we did before our loved ones died, the expectations and messaging from society, family, and friends can be suffocating. If you’re struggling with the thought of managing the holidays like usual, here are a few practical tips and ideas for you to consider to make your holidays more meaningful and connected.

Practical Tips from an STL Grief Therapist about Coping with the Holidays after a Death

1. Cards

Sending holiday cards is a great way to stay connected with others, especially with the increased social isolation of the past 1 - 2 years. If sending cards doesn’t jive with your energy or interests this year, there’s some options in between doing nothing at all and operating like usual.

  • Email virtual holiday cards with companies like the Paperless Post.

  • Use Shutterfly or Minted’s address printing service.

  • Snap a pic and text it + a kind message to your friends.

  • If the thought of knocking out 20+ cards in one sitting is overwhelming to you, write 1 - 2 cards a day. Send when you have them all ready.

2. Decorations

In the spirit but not feeling like pulling the artificial tree from the attic or basement this year? No trouble. Here are a few simpler options:

  • Light a candle.

  • Hang an artificial or real wreath on your door.

  • Decorate a miniature tree.

  • Hire a lighting company to install and remove lights for you.

3. Gifts

Gift-giving is a great way to take the focus off of ourselves, but getting to the store and ultimately wrapping presents is a major task in a normal time. The ideas below can be simpler ways to show your care while caring for yourself.

How to do gifts differently this year while grieving is one of the tips for managing grief in the holiday season. Marble Wellness offers grief counseling in STL and virtual therapy in MO.

  • Go the gift card route this year.

  • Shop online and ship directly to the recipient.

  • Schedule a wrapping party with a friend.

  • Hire someone to wrap gifts for you.

  • Eliminate gifts this year … spend quality time with the people special to you!

4. Holiday gatherings

While COVID might have decreased the number of invites we get for holiday parties, your commitment schedule still may be longer than you want …

Immediate family

Extended family




… the list goes on! So how do you decide how to spend your energy? If these get-togethers fill your cup in all the best ways, go for it! If they are draining, though, pick and choose how you ration your time and energy. Consider who energizes you? Who depletes you? Is traveling something you want to do? What’s the impact on your kids if they don’t see _____ this year? There’s no right or wrong way to approach this - it’s a personal decision. Remember that, in general, your decision is fluid and can be changed - this year or in the future!

5. Meals

Many traditional rituals can make coping during the holidays after a death difficult. For support during this time, or anytime during grief, Marble Wellness is an STL counseling practice that can help. We have grief therapists, depression therapists, and offer in-person counseling in St. Louis and teletherapy anywhere in MO. Call today to get started.

It’s hard to imagine a holiday ritual without some focus on food! The appetizers, main dishes, desserts, drinks, and more are so good but such an investment in time, energy, and money, too! This is a good time to remind you that you don’t have to do it all. Your time with your family will be just as meaningful even if you don’t supply endless amounts of home-cooked dishes for a holiday meal. Wondering what you can do if you’re not doing it all? Here are some ideas:

Think about …

What do I enjoy making the most?

What doesn’t get thrown out because it’s not eaten?

Is there a food I ONLY eat during this time of year?

Can someone else other than me make this dish?

What are my kids’ favorites?

What will I be heartbroken if we don’t have?

What can be skipped?

What can I serve store-bought to replace this dish?

Then …

Make a menu. Does it feel overwhelming? If yes, what can you remove or ask someone else to make?


Teach your children how to make a dish that’s a tradition in your family.

Order the pie.

Schedule a grocery pickup or delivery.

Eat take-out, if you want!

Enjoy your day.

6. Memory activities

So now … the elephant in the room. How do you celebrate the holiday season and honor the fact that someone has died? What can I do that feels meaningful but not cheesy?

  • Designate a chair at the meal table in memory of the deceased.