Holidays, Traditions and Grief

Cancer

This year was pretty tough for most of us. If there is one thing I can take away right now is that we are all, collectively, grieving.

Photo: Pixabay

Some of us have lost family and friends—to cancer, to COVID, to accidents. 

Some of us have lost our jobs and financial well-being.

Some of us have lost our insurance.

Some of us have lost our homes.

Some of us have lost the ability to put food on the table.

As the holidays grow closer, my emotions have been all over the place. Even though there is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of vaccines that will hopefully bring this pandemic under control, I’m still scared, anxious, worried, fiercely protective of my friends and family, lonely, isolated and sad. Like so many others, I’ll be spending the holiday opening gifts with my family on Zoom.

In light of all these feelings, is it possible to honor these grief feelings as part of our holiday experience? There is no right or wrong way to figure out holiday traditions after a loss. I want to encourage you to think about three things:

  • Symbols of remembrance: These are different for everyone. They can be a song, a smell, a photo, a place. They may come up unexpectedly or we may purposefully seek them out to invoke remembrance in our bereavement process. Explore, discover, and learn what things store memories for you and how you want to or don’t want to incorporate them into this year’s holiday activities.
  • Find meaning: After a loss, we struggle to make sense of the loss and find meaning of that loss in our lives. Traditions can help us to find meaning, purpose and a redefined sense of our selves without the thing we have lost-regardless of what that thing was. It could have been a person, a pet, a home, a job, your hair, your health. This is important in our ability to grieve and adapt to life after a loss.
  • Permission: Give yourself permission NOT to do things you are used to doing and to make new traditions. It’s okay to say, “no, not this year.”

I miss my family and friends this year, but I have also found some relief in finding balance in celebrating differently AND having hope for the future. Finding this balance has been important for me in navigating holiday traditions this year. What works for you?


Christina is a clinical oncology social worker and the psychosocial content editor at OncoLink. Christina blogs about resources available to the cancer community, as well as general information about coping with cancer practically, emotionally, and spiritually. Christina is also an instructor at the Penn School of Social Policy and Practice. In her spare time, she loves to knit and volunteer with her therapy dogs, Linus and Huckleberry. She also loves to travel, cook and is an avid Philly sports fan.

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