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Tools and Tips for Navigating the Holidays as a Survivor

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Navigating the holiday season after losing a loved one or close friend can be a roller coaster of happy and painful memories and emotions.

Survivor Resources

“The Days Ahead: Essential Papers” provides listings of support organizations and programs, books and websites designed to help you manage your grief.

But there are things you can do during the winter holiday season that may help you cope with your grief and rediscover the joy of the holiday season.

Everyone processes grief differently, but here are some ideas to help you navigate the holidays:

  • Prepare for your feelings ahead of time: You may want to set aside a time to share memories. Or make a donation of money, clothing or toys to a homeless shelter in your loved one’s memory. If you want to stay busy, you could volunteer to organize donations.
  • Plan a getaway: If your loved one died near the holidays and the memories become overwhelming, consider getting away by taking a vacation removed from the places where your memories might be the most intense. If you decide to stay home, it may help to go to a restaurant or a friend’s house to avoid the stress of preparing a holiday meal. If you find cooking therapeutic, consider preparing a meal and inviting others over.
  • Ask your friends for help: If you have children at home, it may be especially stressful to try and celebrate the holidays while enduring your grief. You may want to ask a friend or relative to help by inviting your children to events with their family.
  • Request help with gifts: You may be too exhausted and distracted to even think about shopping, but if you still want your children to have some special gifts, consider asking a friend to help with this, too. Give them money to pick out a certain gift or gifts. Most people are aching to do something to help a bereaved friend.
  • Start a new tradition: Consider starting a new tradition, such as joining Wreaths Across America or volunteering at a homeless shelter or hospital. Or carry on a tradition that your loved one enjoyed.
  • Keep your memories alive: If remembering your loved one during the holidays brings you comfort, add those memories into your holiday festivities. You might tell funny stories you shared with them, or create a special ornament or burn a candle in their memory. Or perhaps visiting the cemetery and decorating your loved one’s grave would bring you joy.

Visit TAPS for specialized help

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is a military service organization that provides numerous resources, including the following stories to help with surviving the holiday season.

TAPS is available 24/7 through the National Military Survivor Helpline at 800-959-8277.

Honor your loved one’s memory

You may want to find ways to celebrate your loved one’s memory and service. If you do, the Military In Lasting Tribute online memorial honors thousands of service members who died while serving honorably on active duty from 1985 to the present.

The memorial hosts a photo gallery for all the honored service members, as well as a specific page for each that can be shared, saved and printed. Each service member’s memorial page will include their name, branch of service, rank, date of death and their photo or branch of service seal.

Family members who want to include their loved one on the memorial can submit a request and photo through the Military In Lasting Tribute website at

Use these resources for survivors

Military OneSource offers programs and resources to help survivors. Here are a few:

Non-medical counseling is available to eligible survivors in person, by phone, video or online chat. Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or chat with us online to schedule an appointment with a licensed counselor.

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