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Dealing with grief ahead of the holiday season

Mental health experts recommend talking about expectations with loved ones ahead of holiday gatherings.

TAMPA, Fla. — The holidays are a time for family, friends, and togetherness. We're supposed to be cheerful and social but sometimes the holiday season can trigger waves of grief if you're coping with the loss of a loved one.

According to the CDC, more than 750,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with about half of those deaths in 2021. That means hundreds of thousands of families will experience their first Thanksgiving without their loved ones.

10 Tampa Bay talked to a mental health counselor about navigating your emotions and protecting your mental health as we embark on the festivities and traditions surrounding the holidays.

First of all, it's normal to feel sad. Natasha Pierre said feelings of sadness around Thanksgiving and through the month of December are normal because we can often be reminded of the loss. Maybe it's one less gift to buy or having to find a new host for Thanksgiving dinner.

"Grief and celebration are not mutually exclusive. We are able to celebrate the people who are with us that we can see and we can also still grieve the people who are not here. It’s not a betrayal to someone’s memory if we have some cake, if we exchange presents. This is an opportunity for us to create some new memories and some new traditions," said Pierre.

It's also a good idea to have conversations with your family and friends ahead of time. Don't wait until you show up to the holiday gathering to realize you need boundaries. Pierre recommends talking it through and setting expectations ahead of time.

"There’s no right or wrong way to approach the holidays but we want to make sure we’re asking people, how can I support you? What do you need right now? What do you need to be comfortable as we move forward," she said.

The Hospice Foundation of America offers "Three C's for Holiday Grief".

CHOOSE: During the holidays, it’s easy to drift into activities that have the potential to increase your pain. You have choices. Decide what you want to be part of, who you want to be with, and what you want to do. 

COMMUNICATE: Discussing your choices with others, especially those affected by them, is important. They have needs as well. Their ways of dealing with grief may be different.

COMPROMISE: Each person deals with loss in his or her own particular way and therefore has different needs. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Leaving space for compromise is important. 

If you're navigating the grieving process, Pierre encourages you to resist the urge to be by yourself.

"I know it’s a human, almost natural inclination that when things are going bad, you’re not feeling the greatest, to isolate and separate and withdraw. I am imploring everyone to resist that urge. Get around people. Get around friends. It may not be your traditional group," she said.

RELATED: List: Florida resources for mental health awareness