LOS ANGELES - As excitement over the holidays builds so does the dread for millions of people grieving loved ones, sparking a rush to websites offering advice on how to cope with what can be a blizzard of emotions.
David Kessler, who co-wrote the book "On Grief and Grieving" with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the groundbreaking end-of-life book "On Death and Dying," gets more emails this time of the year and said it's normal to feel a little extra pain and sorrow if someone you love has died.
"The holidays, since we were children were about togetherness and loss is the opposite of togetherness," said Kessler, who lists grief resources and tips on coping with holidays on website www.davidkessler.org/html/holidays.html.
For those in the grip of loss, anticipating holidays can be the fraught with pain and anxiety.
Kessler advises people to accept invitations, to light a candle for loved ones, to share memories and to talk to friends who listen without passing judgement or offering advice.
Above all, he encouraged people to remember that there is no right way to grieve.
"Grief doesn't take a holiday," Noreen Carrington, director of the Centre for Grief Care and Education at San Diego Hospice, said in a statement.
Still, she and others said you can take a break from the holidays - if that's what feels right: "Don't be afraid to make changes this year. Sometimes it can be very stressful to keep up with holiday traditions when a loved one has died. Whatever you choose to do this year may be different next year, and that's okay."
Cendra Lynn founded the online community GriefNet.org, which operates 24 hours a day and has various support groups.
There are groups for people who have lost a spouse or partner, a child, a parent, a sibling or a friend, as well as those dealing with health-related losses or supporting the bereaved. Its site for children is at www.kidsaid.com.
"When we are bereaved we are comforted most by those who have suffered a similar loss. With them we know we are understood, that we are safe to experience the multiple aspects of our grief," Lynn said in a note to users.
In the United States, two to three million people died last year. About 200,000 people have loved ones who will die during this holiday season.
"While we are celebrating, they're sitting by a bedside," said Kessler.
For those who will be spending time with people who are dealing with loss, Kessler says: "Allow them to grieve. Don't try to cheer them up. Know it's a situation that can't be fixed. The greatest gift you can give them is your presence."
In its holiday section, Bereavement.net reminds people not to feel guilty if they find themselves enjoying the holiday.
"Having a good time does not mean that you have forgotten your loved one," the site said.