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November 25, 2020

Grief in the Holidays: Sharing memories and honest communication

Craig Greer, Director of Special Programs

Grief can overshadow any holiday.  Any celebration might seem like an emotional mountain, too steep to climb.  For some there is a temptation to throw the covers over our head and endure. Others can turn their thoughts to memories of past holidays and find gratitude. Still others, deal with it in their own way.

There is no right or wrong here.  The feelings we have need to be honored. Everyone’s grief journey is personal and unique. Even when family members are grieving the same loved one, each person grieves a unique and different relationship.

When I was working with a family coping with the death of a child, I found the mother, father and surviving sibling struggling with their grief.  The wife would be at home, often alone, facing the memories and absence of her son who died.  The teenage sibling couldn’t bear to be at home surrounded by memories, so he would hang out with friends and avoid going to the house. Dad, who travelled, listened to Gospel music and would deal with his grief on the golf course.

Each family member felt alone because they were grieving alone.  They often “put on a brave face” when together.  When they finally shared how they individually dealt with grief, they came to a better understanding that each one of them had a unique way to cope with the loss.  Sharing the “how of their grief,” bridged the silence and feelings of emptiness they kept to themselves.

Perhaps, Thanksgiving can be a holiday where we can fill the gap.  A time we can be open and share memories of our loved one and talk honestly about how we are coping.  By sharing with one another what we remember the most and what we miss the most – to share the good and the difficult – we find a deeper compassion and understanding for one another as we share the loss and appreciate what we had.

Of course, this Thanksgiving is even more different as we try and stay safe in the middle of a pandemic.  Being distant from our loved ones during the holidays might make us feel more alone at a time we should be together and celebrate.

This holiday is more challenging, and it may take more effort to reach out, to talk on the phone during a meal or use video calls to see one another. That extra push might make the difference in helping us bring gratitude into focus.  When we can recall our memories and see them as a gift, then even in our grief, we see that the person we love was unique, irreplaceable and that gratitude in our hearts helps us recognize the beauty and wonder of each relationship.

Those memories keep our love alive, even with the pain, we may recognize what we shared is a treasure to hold on to and together give thanks for the beauty of life.