Handling New Year’s when you’re grieving

3 min read

New Year’s when you’re missing someone who died

  • Even years later, the reflective nature of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day can bring back intense emotions.

  • Consider facing the holiday head-on in a way that honors your grief.

  • Give yourself permission to celebrate however feels right to you, and include your loved one’s memory if you can.

  • If you do go out, make sure your fellow revelers are supportive of you and understand the complicated emotions the night may bring.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day can be especially difficult if you’re grieving, whether it’s your first holiday season after your loved one died, or your fifth. Or your 50th.

Hearing “happy new year” over and over may remind us of past celebrations, and a round of “Auld Lang Syne” can bring back intense feelings of loss. As you cap off the holiday season without your loved one, it is easy to feel more alone than ever in your grief as everyone around you is toasting, singing, and kissing.

New Year’s is a time to reflect on the past year while looking forward to what’s next. But marking the passage of time may also be a reminder that the life you spent with your loved one is receding farther into the past. If it is your first New Year’s without them, this may be especially acute, a feeling like you're leaving them behind in the previous calendar year. No wonder, then, that you may be feeling apprehensive about looking toward the future with other New Year’s celebrants.

This fear is common and understandable: Your whole world has been transformed by the experience of losing someone you love. But if that fear is stopping you from moving forward into the new year, it may be time to build some new holiday traditions.

This January 1, instead of vowing to hit the gym or reduce carbs, there are resolutions you may consider embracing to make the New Year’s holiday less troubling—and even find some festive joy.

Resolve to grieve on your own schedule

Why pretend you’re OK when you’re not? It’s important to recognize that not everyone you know is comfortable with your—or anyone’s—prolonged grief.

This can be time of year when well-meaning people might think they are helping when they tell you, “It’s been long enough.” Or, “You’ll feel better.”

So you don’t have to feel bad for turning down an invitation that reminds you that your loved one didn’t live to see this new year. Only you can know your grief, and only you can decide how to get through it. If being with revelers as they ring in the new year sounds dreadfully painful, take a pass on it this year.

If you do choose to celebrate, make sure it’s with people who understand that New Year’s is bittersweet for you, at best—and that you may need to step outside or even leave at some point.

Resolve to commemorate your relationship

Whether you stay at home or go out for New Year’s, you can challenge yourself to reframe the celebration and include your loved one in special plans.

They may be physically no longer present, and the calendar is turning without them, but they are clearly still with you, and today is a day you can spend honoring their continued presence in your life, if you wish.

You can challenge yourself to reframe the celebration and include your loved one in special plans.

You may want to take time on your own to review your last year: the pain, the laughter, the lessons, and the gifts. Make a list of all you experienced, then light a candle, say a prayer, or pour you and your loved one a drink for an honorary toast to the future.

Resolve to embrace your vulnerability

In the midst of grieving, it can be hard to live each day as it comes. It can be even more daunting to face a whole year stretching out in front of you, with the high expectations that New Year’s celebrations bring.

Whatever you’re feeling, don’t be afraid to lean into those emotions. This intense focus may help you process grief in ways you may not yet have been able to.

With self-acceptance, a change in traditions, and a new look at how each day might unfold, you can better face the unique pain of New Year’s head-on.