Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Losing a loved one to cancer is a painful and difficult experience. The death of a loved one is always traumatic, but during the holidays, the feelings of loss can be even more pronounced. Each person has to grieve in his or her own way, but there are some general tips that can help you get through this especially difficult time.

  • Decide if you want to keep certain holiday traditions or create new ones. Plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom. Do something to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Allow yourself to feel pain and whatever other emotions come along, too. Don’t let anyone else tell you how you “should” feel. Then express your feelings and let yourself cry.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well and exercise. Allow yourself small physical pleasures like hot baths, naps, and favorite foods. But avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs.
  • Forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do.
  • Give yourself a break from mourning with distractions like movies, dinner out, reading a book, listening to music, or getting a massage or a manicure. You must work through grief, but you don’t need to focus on it all the time.
  • Consider getting some support. Talk about your loss and your memories of the life and death of your loved one. Do not think you are protecting your family and friends by not expressing your sadness. Ask others for what you need. Find and talk to others who have lost a loved one. Your American Cancer Society is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can help you find support online, local bereavement groups, and other resources. Call 1-800-227-2345.

When to seek help

People who have lost a loved one often feel more intense loss or grief around the holidays. But severe depression, grief, or mourning that continues for a long time without getting better may require professional help. Symptoms can include:

  • Constant thoughts of being worthless or hopeless
  • Ongoing thoughts of death or suicide
  • Inability to perform day-to-day activities
  • Intense guilt over things done or not done at the time of the loved one’s death
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Continued disbelief in the death of the loved one, or inability to accept it
  • Flashbacks, nightmares or memories that continue to intrude into thoughts
  • Severe and prolonged anger, sadness, or depression
  • Breaking off ties with friends and family
  • Extreme weight loss

In some people, the grieving process can go on for a long time. But if symptoms like these last more than 2 months after the loss, you might benefit from professional help.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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