Navigating Your First Holiday Season after Losing a Spouse

The holidays are meant to bring loved ones together. They should be filled with fond memories and cherished traditions. But when a loved one has been lost, traditions are disrupted, and memories may seem bittersweet. For those who are grieving, the holiday season can be a difficult time of year.

If you are facing your first holiday season since losing a spouse, we would like to share some strategies that might be helpful. Grief is a process, and the holidays might be one of the most challenging stages of that process. But get through it once, and it is bound to become easier next time.

Give yourself grace

No matter how painful a loss may be, it is important to remember that you are still living and must not give up on life. At the same time, it’s important to give yourself the grace you need. Your healing is more important than anybody else’s expectations right now.

Don’t force yourself to attend all the family functions. Set boundaries that allow you to benefit from being around loved ones without stretching yourself too thin. Consider picking one or two events that you will attend or deciding how late you will stay before saying thank you and heading home.

Do what you want—not what is expected of you. Conforming to expectations can be healthy in many circumstances, but in the current situation, it may not be possible to do everything the usual way, whether that means skipping the potluck or excusing yourself before the singing starts.

Above all, allow yourself to feel your feelings. If the holidays make you feel sad, that’s okay. If you’re angry, that’s okay too. And if you’re somebody who loves the holidays and you find yourself laughing and having fun, that’s wonderful! Enjoy it without guilt.

Do something different

This holiday is going to be different than past holidays—there’s no way around it. One way to make the difference less jarring is to make some changes on your own terms. Go somewhere different, try something new or treat yourself in a way you usually might not.

For example, how about a change of scenery? You might consider traveling somewhere warm over the holiday season. Imagine starting the New Year by dipping your toes into the ocean. Or perhaps you could rent a cabin and spend some time with family tucked away in a winter wonderland. You might not be the only one who would appreciate shaking things up this holiday season.

Another possibility is to think about ways to remember and honor your spouse. You could start a new tradition, such as taking turns sharing stories about their life, listening to a playlist of their favorite music, making a pilgrimage to their gravesite, giving a charitable gift in their name or even setting a place for them at the dinner table.

Perhaps you could also try a little “retail therapy.” You could buy yourself something fancy, spend a day at the spa, get tickets to a show or treat yourself to some other indulgence that you’ve rarely or never allowed yourself.

Aim your energy outward

Idle time can be tough when you are coping with a loss. It’s easy to keep turning the same memories and worries over in your mind until you get yourself all wound up. One potential solution is to direct that inner energy outward.

There is a constant need for volunteers in our world, whether it’s spending a day working at a local food bank or committing to an ongoing role at a church, charity or community organization. If you’re retired, volunteering can be a satisfying way to put the skills and abilities you developed in your career to use in a new way.

Or perhaps there’s a project or hobby that you’d like to pursue. Think about lessons you’d like to take, sports or games you’d like to play, home improvements you’d like to make or social clubs you’d like to join. There might be a small business that you could start or an area where you could be helpful as a coach, consultant or mentor. Maybe you could even start your own charitable initiative.

Don't be afraid to seek support

Be honest about your emotions and check in with yourself regularly. Even if you’re highly independent or prefer to keep a stiff upper lip, there’s a time to admit that you’re only human and need to let off some steam, share a laugh or have a shoulder to cry on.

When you realize you could use some support, call a trusted friend or family member. Don’t worry about how it looks. Talk about whatever is on your mind. Share stories and memories. Express your concerns. Get it off your chest. Often, just being able to speak out loud to another person can make you feel better.

You might also want to get connected to a local support group. A nice aspect of this approach is you can meet people who are going through the same thing you are. This added layer of empathy can be a tremendous comfort and might help you gain a new perspective on your journey.

When you’ve lost a loved one, you might be approaching the holidays with a sense of dread. It’s a time when the loss can be felt even more sharply than usual. We believe that if you give yourself some grace, tailor your plans, look outward and get support when you need it, you can emerge from this season stronger than before. 


Breanna Coffey, MBA, CFP

Breanna Coffey, MBA, CFP

Wealth Advisor

Breanna is a Wealth Advisor in our Itasca, IL, office. She is passionate about helping clients feel confident in their financial future and specializes in philanthropic giving by working with clients to craft strategic plans to make their giving more impactful. She earned her undergraduate degree from Purdue University, her MBA from the University of Indianapolis and her CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification at Northwestern University. Breanna was also recognized in the InvestmentNews 40 under 40 list in 2022.


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