Holidays Hurt - Ways to Help


My father passed away a few weeks before Christmas in 1974. Honestly, I don’t remember details of what it was like for my family that year, but I remember it was very sad for all of us.

My mother passed away a few days after Christmas in 2014. It was difficult to celebrate Christmas with her in a coma in the hospital, but I think we did our best for the little ones in the family. Since then, every Christmas has a gigantic hole in it - No Mom/Grandma, no homemade candy, cookies and feast.

Then last year was the worst Christmas of all - Christmas without Keven. Therese and I stayed home and pretended it was not Christmas, crying off and on with a deep sadness in our hearts.

This is not a “poor me” post, I’m illustrating that the holiday season can be the hardest part of the year for many of us. What can you do or say at your holiday gatherings this year to acknowledge the grief-stricken people in your life? - remember, it may have been one year or 20 years, losing a loved one is magnified at Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.

Here are my thoughts, I hope they help:

Holidays Hurt More When the Missing Loved One Isn’t Mentioned

Grief hits hardest on certain days of the year, like the anniversary of losing your loved one, their birthday, and all holidays - especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Having lost my son, celebrating with my family was painful. It was glaringly obvious to me that someone special was missing, yet no one mentioned him. I realize its because people are afraid bringing Keven up may upset me - as if I’m not already thinking about my “baby boy” 24/7. This is common thinking, so I understand, but it still hurts.

I encourage family members and friends to talk about the missing person. It hurts when it seems like everyone forgot they existed. What can you say? The simple expression “we miss him/her too and we know how hard this is for you” is a soothing balm to the broken heart of the grieving person.

A smile can appear on everyone’s face when a childhood memory is brought up, such as, “Remember the Christmas when (use their name) got that bike?” Or you can say something that reminded you of him/her; “If he was here right now, he’d be eating most of the mashed potatoes”, or “I miss Grandma’s homemade cranberry sauce.” Such comments will comfort the grieving person by validating their loss and showing that you care.

Overdose and Suicide Deaths Shouldn’t be Minimized

In the last year, there have been more drug overdose deaths than ever before. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 96,779 deaths occurred between March 2020 and March 2021.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages and the 2nd leading cause of death for youth and young adults between the ages of 10-34 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2021).”

Losing someone to an overdose or suicide carries an extra level of grief. Besides the loss, there is often a stigma attached that isn’t there with a death because of illness or accident. People feel even more uncomfortable bringing it up, which adds an extra layer of pain to the grieving person. With substance abusers, chances are there were some unpleasant past holidays where they showed up and made a scene (Keven was an expert at this). Try to think back on who that person was before their life was devastated by drugs or depression. The parents hurt as much and sometimes more if their child passed this way.

Bottom Line

Bringing the lost loved one into the conversation lets the grieving person know you recognize their grief and have not forgotten their person. We LOVE to hear their names. We LOVE to talk about them. We LOVE to hear stories about them (good ones only, please).

One last suggestion - if you have a newly grieving family member or friend (by new I mean it’s only been a few years of less) please don’t ask “How are you?” This is one of those questions I try to avoid for anyone. They may be okay - but if they lost a child, they are not “fine”. Instead, you could say “It’s good to see you.”

As always, thanks for reading this. Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!