Holidays and Loss

christmas grief loss

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” said no one ever who was mourning the loss of a loved one. What used to be much anticipated, and looked upon with happiness, is often dreaded, lonely, and filled with sadness for so many. One doesn’t instantly move through the stages of grief just because a holiday happens. How does one cope with loss at a time that’s supposed to be filled with happiness, anyway?

First, let’s clarify what loss is. Loss can be the death of a loved one, a divorce or the end of a relationship, or loss can be a job loss, or loss of health—anything where someone feels a sense of loss. Loss is also something we all feel multiple times over our lives.

People struggling with loss, need to first be permitted to feel their loss, not hide from it—it’s normal to feel a sense of loss. Let’s face it, loss hurts, and it doesn’t dovetail well with holidays. In the world of hospice, surviving family and loved ones are encouraged to allow themselves to grieve, and engage with bereavement support. But, even without ‘official’ bereavement support, grieving individuals can help themselves get through the holidays with some very important steps:

  • Talk about your feelings, your loss—how this holiday looks and feels different.
  • Talk about positive memories—what did holidays look like before the loss?
  • Explore ways to recapture the positive memories in the current holiday.
  • Start a new tradition which honors a loved one’s memory.


What about anticipatory loss—loss which hasn’t ‘officially’ happened yet, but you know
is coming? Families and loved ones often struggle with this in the case of a terminal illness. Lots of questions surround anticipatory loss—When will ‘it’ happen? Will they be in pain? Will I be present? How can I make sure they have everything they need? The answer to these questions isn’t always the ‘black and white’ answer you’re looking for, but hospice is a great place to start, and a wonderful gift to give your loved one, and yourself. It’s a gift which will not only see to it that your loved one’s physical needs are met, but their emotional and spiritual needs, as well.

One of the ways I’ve seen and experienced the joy of hospice, is through celebrating a loved one—through the anticipated loss—in the form of a party celebrating who they are. The love in the room in celebrations like this gives me goosebumps, just thinking about it. In the case of children, there are often lots of balloons, stuffed animals, singing of songs, and even, as we all heard on the news recently, even a visit from Santa Claus! Or, for adults, often times this looks like a wedding vow renewal, or a party celebrating their contributions to their family—their legacy. Who knows? Perhaps the way you choose to celebrate your loved one may just help you decide how to honor their memory for years to come.

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About Janet Belford

Janet Belford, RN, CLNC, has been a registered nurse for over 24 years, having worked in the pediatric and adult patient populations in critical care, outpatient, case management, and hospice. She is also a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant. She brings to the table a passion about patient rights, informed consent, healthcare integrity, domestic violence, patient and family education, mentoring for fellow nurses, and end-of-life care. It is part of Janet’s mission to ‘be real’ with patients and families, not shy away from ‘difficult conversations,’ and to advocate for patient rights.

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