Ah, the holidays: There鈥檚 the music, the decorating, the time spent with friends and family鈥 it鈥檚 the most wonderful time of year, right?

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 30: Actor Heath Ledger and his girlfriend actress Michelle Williams attend IFP's (Independent Feature Project) 15th Annual Gotham Awards at Chelsea Piers November 30, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

For some, the answer is a resounding 鈥淵ES!鈥 but as celebs such as Michelle Williams (who lost her ex-partner, Heath Ledger, in 2008) and Kanye West (who lost mother Donda in 2007 after complications from a medical procedure) recently proved, the holidays aren鈥檛 so great for others. Whether the loss occurred recently or years in the past, the holidays can bring up feelings of sadness and grief for many whose families have experienced a beloved family member鈥檚 departure.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt of the Center for Loss & Life Transition explains that significant occasions such as holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and the like can actually be the worst times for those dealing with the loss of a loved one. Known as 鈥渘odule events,鈥 Christmas and other holidays can trigger what Dr. Wolfelt calls 鈥済rief bursts,鈥 or a heightened sense of loss.

鈥淚t鈥檚 much more common than people are aware,鈥 he tells us. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a natural phenomenon that occurs,鈥 and it can sneak up years after the initial occurrence.

Take Kanye West, for instance. Though his mom passed away nine years ago, it was the anniversary of her death (possibly in addition to Kim K鈥檚 reported request for a marriage break) that reportedly served as one of the leading contributors to his recent mental breakdown.

MIAMI - AUGUST 29: Kanye West and his mother attend the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards at the American Airlines Arena August 29, 2004 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

And for Michelle Williams, she鈥檚 also been missing her late partner, Heath Ledger, more than ever. Raising the couple鈥檚 now 11-year-old daughter Matilda alone is something Michelle recently admitted to Porter magazine is less than ideal.

鈥淚n all honesty, for pretty much everything else, I鈥檓 a believer in not fighting circumstances, accepting where you are and where you鈥檝e been. In pretty much all senses but one, I would be able to totally go down that line of thinking, were it not for Matilda not having her dad,鈥 she said. 鈥淵ou know that鈥檚 something that doesn鈥檛鈥 I mean, it just won鈥檛 ever be right.鈥

Hers are the thoughts 鈥 and feelings 鈥 that tend to make themselves known due to any given number of triggers around this time of year, be it the smell of cookies that your late grandma always used to bake, or a favorite Christmas song of a deceased spouse.

We chatted with Dr. Wolfelt ahead of the holiday to try to help you get a handle on how those dealing with loss can cope in the coming weeks.

Sad girl crying and a friend comforting her outdoors in a park


Dr. Wolfelt says that there are generally three types of people when it comes to helping you deal with grief. 鈥淥ne third are neutral,鈥 he says, noting that while they don鈥檛 hurt you or help you, 鈥渢hey鈥檙e not really available in the way that you need.鈥 Maybe they ask you how you鈥檙e doing, for example, but they don鈥檛 stick around to hear the answer.

Another type will actually make you feel worse 鈥 these are the people who love to tell you that you should be over things by now, or that pressure or guilt you into participating in holiday activities when it鈥檚 beyond your emotional capacity.

The third type of person, known as the therapeutic third, is the type Dr. Wolfelt says you need to surround yourself with during these heightened times of awareness, even if they鈥檙e just there to listen.

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Young couple sitting on couch


Despite the fact that it may feel counterintuitive at first, Dr. Wolfelt suggests that having someone there to listen might be exactly what you need in order to fully open up enough to talk about your grief and about the deceased.

鈥淚nstead of moving away from it, move toward it,鈥 he suggests. 鈥淸If your pain keeps] trying to get your attention, give it the attention it deserves鈥 know how appropriate it is to be in the dark before the light.鈥

That includes talking about not only what happened, but the person you are missing. In fact, Dr. Wolfelt recommends including them in your holiday conversations. 鈥淚f you are able to speak candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life,鈥 he tells us.

NEW YORK CITY - MARCH 05: (L-R) Michelle Williams and Matilda Ledger sighting on March 5, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Peterson/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)


If you鈥檙e feeling sad and depressed, Dr. Wolfelt says one of the worst things you can do is to conceal your feelings.

If you鈥檙e not up for a big holiday gathering, for instance, it quickly becomes necessary to set some boundaries and speak up. The doctor suggests something as simple as, 鈥淚 know you鈥檙e well-intended, but I don鈥檛 have the energy,鈥 or, 鈥淭hank you for caring about me, but I have to go home and rest.鈥 After all, as he points out, 鈥淜eeping busy won鈥檛 distract you from your grief, but may actually increase stress.鈥 Yikes!

This becomes even more important for those who are parents, like Michelle and Kanye are. 鈥淜ids are very intuitive,鈥 he notes.

Not only are you running the risk that they鈥檒l become what he calls 鈥渙ver-concealers鈥 in their own adult lives should you attempt to hide your true feelings from them, not telling them what the matter is can also lead them to believe that they are somehow responsible for your unhappiness 鈥 oof.

Instead, Dr. Wolfelt recommends acknowledging your sentiments and telling them why you鈥檙e sad. That doesn鈥檛 mean leaning on them for your own emotional support, however. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e the adult 鈥 model that,鈥 he says. 鈥淸It鈥檚] not their job to take care of you.鈥

If you鈥檙e feeling overwhelmed, Dr. Wolfelt says it鈥檚 best to call on your own family and friends to help with the kids. After all, as much as you need 鈥 and deserve 鈥 to grieve, kids process emotion differently, and still deserve to enjoy the holiday season. 鈥淟et them be a child,鈥 he says.

Two women exercising


While this one may seem fairly obvious, Dr. Wolfelt points out that feelings of loss can leave you with extremely low energy levels that will naturally require you to slow down from your typical pace. 鈥淩espect what your mind and body are telling you,鈥 he says.

Since this will also likely affect your Circadian rhythms, Dr. Wolfelt suggests three 30-minute periods of rest throughout your day to recharge your batteries.

On the flip side, you don鈥檛 want to 鈥渓ock up,鈥 as he says, or get stuck in a rut of despair: a 20-30 minute walk with one of your therapeutic third friends should be enough to get you moving and do the trick. Also suggested? Five to six tall glasses of water, as grief can also leave you dehydrated.

Two women looking through a book together


While grief may be your primary emotion, Dr. Wolfelt says it鈥檚 important to reflect on the memories you shared with the person you miss prior to their passing. 鈥淢emories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone you love,鈥 he writes in his article 鈥Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season.鈥 鈥淪hare them,鈥 he says, but keep in mind that 鈥渕emories are tinged with both happiness and sadness,鈥 and should be honored accordingly.

After all, as Dr. Wolfelt so eloquently puts it, 鈥淟ove does not end with death.鈥

What things have you found helpful following the passing of a loved one? Tell us over @BritandCo.

(Photos via Evan Agostini, Christopher Peterson, Frank Micelotta + Dimitrios Kambouris + Antonio Guillem/Getty + Idea Images)