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The holiday season officially begins with Thanksgiving, and it is closely followed by Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the New Year. It is one decorative, family-tradition fueled, gift-giving holiday after another that begins with a day set apart for gratitude and ends with a day focused on hope for the future.

This quick succession of major holidays can be incredibly difficult for those who are grieving – and those supporting the bereaved. Here are some thoughts on how to help loved ones with the weight of the holiday season.

Struggling to Feel Grateful

There is a long list of things with which the bereaved struggle, and one of them is being able to feel grateful in the midst of hurt. And now they are facing a holiday that centers on being thankful — one that is quickly followed by other holidays where everyone is feeling happy.

Validate those feelings by offering a blanket statement that may open space for them to process how they feel, such as, “I imagine it is hard to think of something you are grateful for right now.”

Once they feel safe and validated to admit they are not feeling thankful, they may be able to see some things for which they are grateful. Some family members may feel guilty for wanting to celebrate the holiday, and for feeling fortunate to have the ability to be with family and friends. It is helpful to let them know that it is OK to feel fortunate about their circumstances, but it is also OK to take the time to feel sad, too.

Thinking of Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving traditions are both regional and family created. They can range from the name of a dish, to how people dress at the table, to whether or not a game of touch football is included between the main meal and dessert. You can hold space for the bereaved to process how their traditions are making them feel by saying, “Would you like to share any specific traditions or memories you are finding difficult? Or ones that are making you feel happy?”

Guide the bereaved in processing the meaning behind traditions, and allow them to find hope in them. Oftentimes, people choose to eliminate some traditions that are triggering heavy emotions, and they assume they will reinstate them in the future. Unfortunately, they rarely bring them back, and, many years later, they often notice that Thanksgiving — or one of the following holidays — is not the same. The traditions, while painful at first, can actually keep them connected to the family member who died.

As you listen to people sharing stories of past Thanksgivings and subsequent holidays, you will be able to hear which parts have real significance for their family and their family’s identity. Encourage them to find a way to maintain those. Tears may flow, but they will be healing tears. They may feel closer to the one who is missing.

Offering Grace

When we support people grieving at any time, but particularly during the holidays, we should offer them grace, presence and active listening. It is hard to feel grateful any day when your life is turned upside down, and they will benefit from caregivers, clergy and funeral directors who validate and acknowledge each bit of heaviness of a holiday set apart for gratitude.

About The information and tools available on eCondolence seek to clarify the questions and offer reliable answers for those who are grieving or who want to help someone who is. provides guidance on appropriate items to send and words to express condolences in a respectable and understanding way. Learn more.

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