How to Deal with Grief During the Holidays

Diana Moore and Larry Detweiler are members of our hospice team. Diana is the Bereavement Coordinator, and Larry is the Chaplain. Hospice offers interdisciplinary care, including pain management, personal care, and social work, along with grief and bereavement support, at home to individuals nearing the end of life. Larry helps individuals and families prepare for a loved one’s passing, and Diana provides support for friends and family members after a person has died.

Diana and Larry’s work is centered on listening and offering emotional support and counseling for people who are facing death or who are coping with a loved one’s death. They say that everyone grieves, though the experience is unique to each individual. We recently sat down with Diana and Larry to better understand the experience of grief and bereavement and to talk about coping with grief during the coming holiday season.

“A lot of people feel heightened anxiety during the holidays,” says Diana, “when there are so many expectations about how we are supposed to feel and what we are supposed to do. Often, for a person who is grieving, it is challenging to conjure these feelings of joy or happiness.” Because the holidays often revolve around traditions and bringing families together, many people are left wondering how they can get through the holidays. “Do we carry on with our traditions, or find new ones?” asks Larry. This can be frustrating and can compound a person’s feelings of sadness.

Larry says that we are always dealing with loss and lamentations. “I don’t think that grief is just for those who have died,” he says. “We engage in the practice of grieving throughout the entirety of our lives and develop our skill for coping with the feelings of loss, anger, sadness.” Diana adds that grief does not move according to a calendar. “It’s always evolving.” Larry offers an analogy borrowed from a book by psychotherapist and writer Francis Weller. “Picture a series of islands. When someone dies, you are swept off one island and tossed into the waves. You have to work a bit to find your way, and, eventually, you do. You get to a new island and realize that you are back on solid ground. It is not the same, though there is a sense of familiarity.”

Taking a cue from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, who runs the Center for Loss & Life Transition in Colorado, Diana talks about the touchstones of grief. “Allow yourself to pause and engage with how you are feeling along these touchstones,” she says.

Diana and Larry urge giving yourself the opportunity to explore your grief as you experience it, and Diana emphasizes the importance of being gentle and patient wit yourself and those around you.

“Especially during the holidays, do what feels right. If you don’t feel like having a big gathering, that is okay.” She says that it’s important to trust your instincts and to listen to your needs. “Give yourself permission to change things if they need to be changed, and to allow space and time to step away from festivities if you need a private moment.”

Diana, who offered a free workshop earlier this month called Coping with Grief During the Holidays, says that it is sometimes helpful to do something deliberate to acknowledge yourloved one during the holidays. You can light a candle, set a place for your loved one at the dinner table, or, simply, talk about what your loved one would have liked about the day. Larry adds that it’s important to remember that crying is okay. Feeling the tears roll down your cheek can be cleansing and cathartic. It can offer an opportunity to confront the loss and to continue down the path of grieving.

For more information about our free grief and bereavement support groups, click here.