Dr. Kelly Tyner Offers Tips on Navigating Grief


xperiencing grief during the holidays is a common experience, but coping with those feelings can be overwhelming. Dr. Kelly Tyner, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, shares tips on navigating through the process.

Why does grief seem to intensify for some people during the holidays?

Everything is intensified during the holidays! You can almost feel it in the air: joy, happiness, fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, grief. The holidays are typically a time for connecting with those we hold most dear. When we are faced with not being able to share these special times with a lost loved one, we can become overwhelmed and begin to reexperience the early days of grief. This is completely normal.

For families who will celebrate the first holiday season without their loved one this year, what coping strategies might be helpful?

Finding a way to incorporate the memory of their loved one into the holiday celebration might be a great way for families to cope with loss during this time. Oftentimes, we try to avoid bringing attention to anything that might make us or other family members sad during a time when we are supposed to be happy. We want to offer each other and ourselves a respite from the loss, sadness, and grief. Instead of avoiding the sadness or thoughts of the lost loved one, perhaps a special tribute could be instituted. Some ideas include:

      • Asking everyone to share a special memory that they have of the loved one that has passed.
      • Setting up a jar and little slips of paper so that people can write down their memories about the loved one and then asking someone to read these out loud.
      • Creating a slide show to display during the celebration that contains pictures of the loved one. This could specifically contain photographs of previous holiday celebrations when the loved one was still alive.

It can be difficult to know what is normal during the grieving process and when to seek out a professional for help. What should we look for to know the difference, in ourselves and our loved ones?

Grief is incredibly personal and healthy grief can look very different among individuals. The great thing about therapy is that it is never a bad idea! Having a safe environment in which to voice and process struggles can only help. Therapy can also assist in normalizing struggles. Oftentimes, we can become very isolated in our thoughts and feelings and can begin to think that what we are thinking and feelings is outside of what is “normal”…that there is something “wrong” with us. This can only intensify the struggle. By discussing our struggles with a professional, problems can become more manageable and less overwhelming.

Individuals should seek immediate help if they are experiencing thoughts of harm to self or others. In our darkest moments, everything can look bleak and hopeless. There are so many mental health options available that can truly make an enormous difference including: individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy.

I also think it’s important to point out that the assumption that “healing from grief” means that there is a return to how one was before the loss is unrealistic. That expectation IS very hopeless. Much like healing from a physical wound, emotional healing may leave a scar. Scars can be a great reminder of what we have gone through and how much we have grown as a result of our struggles. Instead of chasing the idea of returning to what life was like before the loss, it can be helpful to focus on being kind to ourselves and to highlight our strength and resilience as we navigate grief.