Grief, while difficult to deal with at any time, is often magnified at moments of celebration. Holidays are times not only of celebration, rituals and traditions; they are also times of sharing memories and with those memories we all face loss and sadness. This is one of the reasons so many people have difficulty at the holidays: the frenzy of holiday cheer emphasizes those feelings of loss.

Recently I came across the term “conflicted grief”. Conflicted grief occurs when you experience a loss that is tinged with other feelings than simply sadness. This happens more frequently than most of us think; an elderly parent has suffered with a debilitating illness and with their passing, we feel sadness but we may also feel some relief that their suffering has ceased.  Or consider all the feelings one feels regarding divorce; fear, sadness, angry and often, joy. Obviously, there are many versions of conflicted grief. Some people feel this inner conflict as guilt. “Does that make me a bad person that I feel relief/joy at this difficult time?” Of course not, loss is never simple and grief is complicated.

Most feelings don’t have clean-cut edges, but are rather murky. Often we experience more than one feeling at a time – sadness accompanied by relief/joy/satisfaction is not guilt, but conflicted grief. Many losses are accompanied by a jumble of feelings. It doesn’t have to be our direct loss to feel it. Just this week, with the death of Nelson Mandala, we celebrate his life while mourning his passing. I imagine his family, along with the deep loss, feel relief that he is no longer struggling. This week, Connecticut (and the nation) will commemorate the horrific tragedy that occurred in Newtown just one year ago. Many of us are aware of our sadness even as we move forward with the holiday celebrations.

Other examples of complicated grief that are prevalent at the holidays; not having had children, an estranged relationship with a loved one, health concerns or financial limitations. The list goes on and on.

In our life time, we will all experience this phenomenon. As we live longer, we experience more losses and the accumulation of these are magnified during times of celebration. If we are not mindful of conflicted grief, we may feel guilty at allowing ourselves to fully participate in the joy of the season. We can honor our losses yet recognize that there are many aspects of our life for which we can feel deep gratitude and joy.

 “When people are determined they can overcome anything.”

Nelson Mandala, Nov. 14, 2006

© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.


  1. marnie on the 07. Dec, 2013 remarked #

    I am sad my mom and dad arne’t here to see my kids, yet I am excited for the kids on Christmas morning. Now I know what I feel isn’t grief. Thanks this helps a lot!

  2. CJ Golden on the 08. Dec, 2013 remarked #

    Its interesting that this blog brought back to mind one time when joe and I were joyfully watching the grandkids riding on a carousel in a mall somewhere. I was filled with love for these little children and totally in the moment until I remembered my parents in florida who were, at the time, very frail, ill and close to death’s door.
    I felt guilty for feeling joyful when they were in such distress.

    Thank you for your words – I had come to understand that we can feel an abundance of emotions and they are all real and do not negate each other.
    Your blog helped me solidify that

  3. Dr. LJ McMunn on the 10. Dec, 2013 remarked #

    Thanks Donna for the timely post. As therapists we know & work with these issues with our clients. Yet we often don’t apply the information to our own situations. As you noted last year CT & the nation were faced with the tragedy at Newtown. Just one week later my family suffered the very sudden & uexpected loss of our 2-year old great niece. While we remember her life & deal with the tragedy of her loss so close to Christmas, we also celebrate the many, many other health nieces/nephew, greats & grea-greats that the family has been blessed with.

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