Season’s Grieving: Tips for Surviving the Merriest Time of the Year When You’re Miserable

How to navigate coping with grief through a time of year renowned for sparking joy.

It’s that time of year again—houses are adorned with blinking lights and stuttering animatronics, and abandoned gourds are beacons of cheer for everyone. Well, almost everyone. Some of us walk by, disdainfully eyeing these annual specters popping up in our neighborhoods. We are, once again, reminded that while the world rejoices, we’re left to wallow.

Whether you come from a family you’ve successfully excommunicated—for valid reasons, of course—or happen to miss someone or something, getting through the holidays can be an anguishing slog. So, how do we navigate coping with our grief and the grief of others through a time of year renowned for sparking joy?

Start by alleviating some of the pressure to meet expectations by spending time with those you genuinely enjoy being around. The holiday season is often synonymous with quality time with family, which can be uncomfortable and exhausting. Family time is a chore if you can’t express yourself efficiently or have strained relationships with individual members. Being conscious and intentional about the people you are around during the holidays—as opposed to the obligatory tradition of spending time with family—will allow you to relax and perhaps even begin to enjoy the previously offensive decorations.

Spending time with cool people is a great start, but there’s more to be done if you’re going to transform from the Grinch to a holiday-loving Who.

Check in on those cool people you’ve decided to spend time with; it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be checking up on you. And above all, check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling, and be kind if and when the answer is “not great”; mourning in whatever capacity feels right is not only acceptable, it is encouraged! Often, it can feel like the world has left you behind during the holiday season, meaning it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a little shitty.

Traversing the path to feeling okay during the holiday season won’t be easy, but a great stepping stone is validating the fact that you do not need to be happy.

Once you have established that you will only be spending time around those you love, and have checked in with others and yourself on how everyone is handling their grief, you may be able to reach another huge milestone.

That is forcing yourself to enjoy the annoyingly jolly festivities and decorations in even the most dismal times. Arguably, one of the hardest things to accomplish, especially with a customary attitude of pure contempt toward the holidays.

Since Portland gets dark before 5 pm in the winter, the streets are often cold and poorly lit during the evenings. So, try to interpret the bright lights on every roof, tree, porch and handrail that are trademarks of this time of year as relief from the crushing, damp nights.

Assuming you’ve gotten around to appreciating the previously annoying displays of merriment, the next suggestion involves food. Specifically, indulging in delicious and comforting meals to help you—or those around you—get through the thick of the grief. Food is a notorious mood booster, with the effects heightened by meals that nourish the soul. Everyone has that one meal that seems to be capable of fixing anything and everything. Indulge in that meal and any others that put a smile on your face.

If you’re feeling up for it, you can even look to start new traditions in honor of that person, place, or thing you may be missing. Though it may seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be complicated or incredibly significant. Instead, think of it more as a distraction; no matter how big or small, thorough or half-baked, the purpose is to get your mind away from the sadness.

However you decide to cope with the grief around you this holiday season, it is important to acknowledge that you are not alone. Maneuvering complex emotions, especially during such an effervescent time, is not an easy feat.

While there is no fool-proof method for dealing with sorrow during the holidays—and the things mentioned in this piece aren’t strict guidelines for becoming the perfect holiday person—the opportunity to feel better is present. Take the time to experience all of your feelings, good and bad, this holiday season, reach out to those you love, and, if you’re feeling up for it, create a new tradition.

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