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Finding Holiday Joy Amid the Grief

If you've lost a loved one or suffered a setback, the holidays can feel hollow. Learn how to experience joy despite it all.

Honor Your Loved One

Light a special candle to celebrate someone you love. Create ornaments with a photograph. "It's important to find ways to honor your loved one -- a way that feels comfortable for you," Apollon tells WebMD. "Make cookies that grandmother used to make. Or serve dad's favorite main dish in his honor. Watch their favorite movie together. These are all ways to connect with that person."

A visit to the cemetery is a tradition for many people. Take that moment to talk heart-to-heart with your loved one. Or use a journal to have a conversation. Get out the photo albums.

With a death in the family, it helps to focus on the richness of a life well-lived, says Rauch. "When you share stories about that person, you're filling your heart with that person -- since they can't fill your living room anymore. While there is sadness, there are often a lot of happy, funny, rich memories that can be shared. "

For the child who has lost a parent, it helps to talk about school, about things they knew made their parent proud, Rauch adds. "When a parent dies, the child can carry the best of them in their hearts. It's a means of strengthening that relationship, that memory."

Apollon counsels many parents who have lost a child. "It's important to give holidays a different meaning -- since meaning determines how you feel about your life," she tells WebMD. "Do something in honor of your child. If his football team did a charitable event every year, get involved in that. Buy the gifts you would buy for your child, then give them to a needy child. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or hospital for children."

Discover Small Joys

As the holidays unfold, tune into small joyful moments, Apollon advises. "When you hear the laughter of children, focus on how good that feels. When you eat a piece of pie, really taste it. In the moment, it tastes so good -- and in that moment, you're outside your grief."Also, look for opportunities to laugh. "When you're laughing, your brain produces endorphins to boost the immune system," she says. "Give yourself permission to find things that make you laugh."

A cautionary note: "If it feels impossible to imagine the holiday as anything but unbearable, you might be severely depressed," says Rauch. "You need to see a doctor."

Symptoms of depression include: sadness, loss of enjoyment, loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, digestive problems, change of appetite, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, get advice from your health provider or a referral to a mental health professional.

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Reviewed on November 08, 2007
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