Grief and the Holidays – Sarah Scott

The best time to start talking about Grief and the Holidays is today, whenever in the calendar year this article finds you. Staring the conversation is sometimes the most difficult part. Often family or friends might each be waiting for the other person to bring it up.  If you are wondering about a family member who has experienced significant loss, the best way to start the conversation, in our experience, is simple, direct, and open ended.  For example, you may simply say: “This will be the first Christmas without Andrew, how are you feeling about that?” This way the person can meet the conversation however they are feeling without being led in one direction or another.

People feel the full range of feelings when it comes to Grief and the Holidays and there’s no one right answer.  For some, they will desire to memorialize, mark or remember in a specific way.  Perhaps by baking a cherished recipe, leaving a chair empty at the gathering, or putting up a photo in a special spot.   Others, perhaps even in the same family/friend group, may feel very differently. They may not want to engage in this form of grief expression this year.  They may desire not to focus on the loss, to change previous holiday patterns or to do something very different than established traditions, like drive-thru burgers and a trip to the beach rather than the sit-down turkey meal they always had at Mum’s. How can both be right?

After starting the conversation, if there is differing views, I would encourage you to give one another a classic “get out of jail free card” and extend grace to your fellow griever to live out their reality this season.  Perhaps also provide accommodation for one another- maybe yes, the person will come to the dinner, but just for dessert, or there will be a timeline on leaving or a boundary discussed on what would make everyone comfortable.  Sometimes a group art project or gathering resources to donate in the persons memory can be a helpful aspect to grieving together differently.

One author we really appreciate here at Hospice is Megan Devine.  She suggests having an “anchor point”, a tangible object in your pocket that reminds you of your life outside of the event you are attending.  Something that will remind you of something else- perhaps a work accomplishment or the love of another friend- something other than the grief to physically ground you.  This can serve as a reminder that the difficult event won’t last forever, and that you will be in a place that’s more comfortable again.

At a time of year when connection is celebrated, absence is no small difficulty to navigate! If you are looking for grief resources, please contact Sarah Scott or Tina Boyd-Fuller at Hospice, as we would be happy to suggest books, podcasts, or community resources to help.

Sarah Scott

Spiritual Health Clinician