First Holiday Without a Loved One

The holidays can be stressful for anyone. But if this is your first holiday season without a loved one, it can be even more challenging. Regardless of when you lost your family member or friend over the year, the holidays can bring up memories and distress for you.

Here are five tips for making your first holiday without your loved one as easy as possible:

Forgive. Yes, it is sad to not have your loved one physically with you. There is no doubt about it. And yet, often our thoughts make things worse. Like adding salt to a wound, you may find that you are beating yourself up about what you should have or could have done. One client, for example, who lost her husband of 52 years, told me “I keep telling myself I should have taken him to the doctor sooner. He refused to go but I should have I had forced him to see someone.” She was placing the blame on herself and feeling just awful about it. In fact, there was probably nothing more she could have done. She needed to forgive herself.

Some people also need to forgive others — their loved one, healthcare professionals, other family members. By continuing to experience resentment and anger, you are only hurting yourself. (Read tips on how to forgive)

Talk about them. Tell stories about your loved one — like the time he tried to put the lights on the Christmas tree and the entire thing fell over or when she was determined to make the flambé only to have the entire thing burn. Keeping them in your thoughts can be therapeutic for you and others.

Prioritize your health. When we are stressed, we tend to neglect fundamental health issues, like getting the sleep, nutrition and activity we need. The holidays tend to make us ignore our health even more. But you will not be able to function optimally (physically or psychologically) if you do not get the rest, food and exercise you need.

Start a new tradition. You don’t have to do things the way you always have. Try something new. After their father died, one family decided to volunteer all together at the local homeless shelter. It was extremely rewarding to help out others in need and was a way they could honor their father who had spent much of his time helping out others.


Tell others what you need. Everyone copes with death differently. No one knows what you need right now. So tell them. If you really want to talk about your loved one, ask others to share their favorite story about them. If you need some assistance with your shopping, let your loved ones know.

Finally, keep in mind that the first holiday is usually the hardest after a loved one has died.

Photo © Marcel Pelletier

Elizabeth LombardoElizabeth Lombardo, PhD, is a psychologist, physical therapist and author of the bestselling book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. She has been quoted by some of today’s top media outlets including CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Woman’s Day, Glamour, Self, Woman’s World, Health and Real Simple. Visit for more information.