A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

Uh-oh, it's that time again. Grief and the Holidays

The holidays are approaching. A joyous time. A festive time. A time when families and friends celebrate the passage of another year and the coming of a new year. But not everyone will feel like celebrating. If this is the first year since the death of a loved one or a divorce, the grief and the holidays may be difficult. Since time does not heal emotional wounds, subsequent holiday times may be painful and awkward. Even surrounded by family and friends, grievers may feel isolated, alone, and as if no one understands. As we move beyond Thanksgiving to Christmas, Chanukah and New Year's Day, and a review of the year gone by, we are reminded of the war in Iraq and the continued unrest in the Middle East, as well as the ongoing threats of terrorism on our shores. We will share a collective sadness about the losses that have affected all the people whose lives have been impacted by the events that have changed our world.

How Grief Feels

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. It is marked by conflicting emotions that result from the change in a familiar pattern of behavior. But from the standpoint of the grieving person, this is how grief may feel. Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when we need them one more time, they are no longer there. Adapting to the absence of a loved one is difficult enough. But the first holiday season, with its constant reminders of holiday joy and tradition, can be especially painful.At the Grief Recovery Institute we’ve talked with thousands of people who’ve told us they wished they could jump from late October right to mid-January. We’ve heard the same sentiment from people enduring their first holiday season following a divorce. It’s normal to worry that you won’t be able to handle the pain of that first holiday season, whether the missing loved one is a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child. You may even think you’d rather skip holiday gatherings. Those feelings and fears are not illogical or irrational. They represent a normal, healthy range of emotions about painful loss and our society’s limited ability to talk openly and honestly about grief.

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A Taboo Subject

We all experience losses and we all grieve. Yet, grief is one of the most off-limits topics for discussion in our society. It seems strange that one of the experiences we are all going to have, is the one experience we are ill-prepared for and ill-equipped to talk about. Even more troubling is all the misinformation passed on about grief. We have been taught to believe that time heals all wounds. So people will say, "It just takes time." The griever assumes the advice to be correct, and waits while time goes by. But time is neutral and does nothing but pass. People also say, "You have to be strong for the children" [or other family members]. So we pass that on to grievers, who dutifully act strong for the kids, while burying their own feelings deeper and deeper. Worse, while acting strong for the children, they demonstrate "not feeling," which teaches the child to hide his or her feelings also. We have been socialized to believe that intellectual remarks will help with emotional conflict. So grievers are told, "Don’t feel bad, he led such a full life." Maybe he did. But the griever is in emotional turmoil, and that comment, which may be intellectually accurate is not emotionally helpful. None of the pat remarks identified above help the griever take those correct and necessary steps. Rather, the griever is led down a path that leads to more isolation and loneliness.


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What Grievers Want

Several years ago we conducted a survey that asked: "What is the best way to act around someone who has just experienced the death of a loved one?" From the multiple choice answers, 98 percent of the respondents chose: "Act as if nothing had happened." We also surveyed those who had experienced the death of a loved in the past five years. We asked them: "In the weeks and months immediately following the death of your loved one, what did you most want and need to do?" Ninety-four percent responded, "Talk about what happened and my relationship with the person who died." This holiday season, there will be plenty of hurting people who, given the opportunity, will want to talk about someone they miss. You will be a most cherished friend or family member if the grieving person feels safe enough to talk to you about what is so foremost on his mind and in his heart. If the person doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t be offended.

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A Safe Start

At the very least, we suggest that you bring up the topic, and allow them to decide if they want to talk about it. If you’re thinking that it is an awkward question and you don’t know how to ask it, we agree with you. So, here’s a simple phrase which allows the griever to respond or not as they see fit, but is not an interrogation or a command that they must talk about the loss. "I heard about the death in your family...I can’t imagine what this has been like for you." If you look at that phrase you’ll notice that it is actually a statement, but the use of the word imagine invites an answer without ever asking a probing question. Interestingly, over the years, we have found the word imagine to be the single most open-ended emotional word in the English language. It implies that whatever the griever says will be acceptable. It implies that whatever the griever says will not be judged or criticized. Those are very important safeguards for the griever, who is hyper-aware of any comments or questions which imply that he is wrong or defective for having the emotions associated with loss. Just use your own memory and experience to recall how important it was to feel safe when your heart had been affected by a painful loss. Many of you may remember having felt hurt by people who were really very close to you when they said things that didn’t feel right, or equally, when they avoided the topic, and left you feeling very confused. If a friend gets a new sports car, we wouldn’t dream of not asking all about it. We know they really want to tell us all about it. We must adopt a parallel notion when something sad or upsetting has happened. We know, in many cases, they really want to talk about it. If people don’t feel safe to talk, they may find other ways to soothe themselves. That could include alcohol, drugs, and food - something in plentiful supply at holiday time, and which may have negative or disastrous consequences.

Take A Chance

Communication has its risks. Bringing up a loss - yours or someone else's - may not be welcomed. Good taste and timing are important. For instance, we’re not suggesting that just as grandpa starts to carve the turkey, you blurt out, "How have you been since grandma died?" However, from personal experience, we can tell you that it would not make any sense not to mention someone very important to us. Russell’s personal story illustrates this idea. "My mother died ten years ago on the day before Thanksgiving, and that holiday hasn't been the same for me since. But I always take the opportunity to toast my Mom and say how much I miss her. Invariably, the others at the table start talking about people they miss. The stories and the memories they evoke are filled with laughter and tears." The ability to communicate our emotions openly and clearly, happy or sad, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of being human. It's less human to exclude from discussion those people who have been important in our lives. Being afraid of sad feelings can deprive us of the treasure trove of memories attached to relationships with people who have died. Overcoming this fear, especially at holiday time, allows us to claim the full memory of the person we’re missing. People are surprised to discover that even though there may be some sadness, there may be plenty of joy as well. Bottom Line Recovery from loss is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the griever. We don't want to sound like a commercial, but we'll make an exception this one time. The most effective and accurate source of those correct choices is our book, The Grief Recovery Handbook.  The subtitle says it all - The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses.


If you found this article helpful, we als suggest the following from our Grief Blog;

Grief Support During the Holidays

A Holiday Resolution for Postive Change



Free book grief loss death divorce recovery



Reading this sure sounded home for me. I lost my father and my dear mother ten months apart. It was a year ago this past June and I feel still feel raw from the pain and hurt of them being gone. Needing to talk about it and openly cry has been what I have needed most but have been unable to do much of either since people do not seem to know how to handle it or me. Thanks for your book!! I have not yet gotten the workbook but I will have by the time you read this comment. :) I very much would like to get certified in grief recovery so that I may help others! I am anxiously waiting for you to come near my home in Windsor Virginia. Again,thanks for all your work in helping with grief recovery. You are much much appreciated!!

Catherine, many thanks for your comment. Please give us a call if you have any questions while reading the book. We hope it helps your heart. Glad to here your interested in our Certification Training. We will be in Richmond, VA next August 24-27 2012. Maybe that one might work for you. Keep us posted!

I read up above and I did have my mother pass away in 2001. Other life altering experiences happen to me within a 3 year period that put me into a downward spiral of never ending grief that seems so unrelenting and a feeling of great loss and feeling trapped with no way out. I was always in a somewhat of a depressed state of mind, but having being hurt,alone,lost and other things just made things so much worst. If only I had someone to talk to might ease my mind and perhaps help me adjust to living life the way it is meant to be lived, but for now I have no goals, no drive to do anything. I guess some might call it wasting precious time away.

I wish every single person in my family would have read this article in 2001, after my ex-husband and daughter's dad, was killed in Tower 1.

My mom annoyed me b/c, for one, she made all the decisions of how we were going to react and, if we didn't feel like following them, she went into her "force people to do what's right for them," by her definition, mode.

She told me to tell my daughter to get over it three months after he was murdered, and I said I'm not going to do that, b/c the people at the group I was in then "Families of Homicide Victims" didn't want us to do that.

Then my mom tried to force out of everyone, including me, a story about the "best Christmas you remember."

I couldn't think of one that didn't involve my daughter's dad, but she was against me even bringing him up.

I finally just left the table - and the house - and walked around the circle by myself.

I couldn't believe how everyone kept acting as if nothing had happened when, on the way to my parents house, they had military figures with machine guns standing at every airport security portal. And I've never been the kind of person to change history to suit my own feelings like my mom was.

That's my memory of the first Christmas with so-called family three months after my daughter's dad, my former husband, died in Tower 1.

I wish they would have read this article then and I wish they would now.

This was so totally stupid the first year I lost my ex-husband, daughter's dad, b/c it was positively LAUGHable that my family wanted to act like nothing happened 3 months after Eric, that's his name, died in Tower 1.

I even felt like saying to them "Well let's see, where should we start acting this way? At the airport, where they have military members with long, ugly guns at every security portal?"

I settled for leaving the house when they insisted on acting like he was still here, b/c I thought it was totally stupid and wasn't about to cheerfully recount the "happiest Christmas you remember" when I didn't feel happy at all. Not even a little. Not even after trying to force myself to feel something other than numbness and apathy, which I still don't understand.

The pain waited almost 2 years to come. I mean the really bad pain that caused me to have severe asthma attacks and put me on medication for Depression waited until June of 2003 to put in an appearance.

Dear Karen,

Why then, did you mention a loss of precious time whilst obviously rather busy to process a rather negative experience and thus preparing to make most of the future possibilities...Don't be to hard on yourself.



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