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By Amy May, Funeral Director

An empty chair at the dinner table.
One less gift.
The absence of a favorite holiday dish.
Traditions that just don’t feel the same.

Grieving the loss of a loved one during the holiday season can make the holidays especially challenging, and make you feel like not celebrating at all. I understand. I’ve been there too, and I’ve helped many families deal with loss during this especially difficult time. Holidays, any time of year, can be a painful reminder that your loved one is no longer present. No matter how much time has passed, certain smells, songs, traditions, and even other people can be a trigger for missing your loved one. There’s a void in the family, and it can’t go unnoticed. Nothing is the same as it was before.

Christmas tree and stockings on a fireplace.

It can feel overwhelming to find yourself grieving during the holidays. Every Christmas my father plays Elvis’ Christmas album and when “Mama Liked the Roses” comes on, he becomes emotional. She’s been gone since 1989 and even after all these years, it still hurts. To make things harder, during this pandemic we may not be able to have the funeral services we wanted for our loved one who has recently passed. Or we might find ourselves alone or in smaller groups and left with too much space, allowing for the raw power of loss to affect our thoughts, energy, and emotions. This is completely understandable. There’s no “right” or “normal” way to grieve. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Grief is a necessary part of the journey toward healing. One of the best things you can do during this time is to allow yourself to feel your feelings and to practice self-care. I have some strategies that have worked for me and others, and I hope will help anyone cope with loss during this time of year.

  1. Offer yourself grace: Know and understand that it’s okay to go through this, especially during the holiday season.
  2. Be kind to yourself: Take time for self-care and surround yourself with support from loved ones. Try exercising and journaling to relieve overwhelming emotions.
  3. Ask for and accept help: I’m a big advocate of therapy. Whether you prefer group or individual sessions, therapy can assist in healing. If you need help finding a therapist or support group, we can help direct you toward community resources.
  4. Be the light. Make a difference: Supporting your community and volunteering during a time of grief can be beneficial to your emotional and mental health, while helping others.
  5. Try not to make comparisons: It’s easy to see other families and groups enjoy the holiday festivities while you’re having a difficult time. Keep in mind it’s not all it may seem, and the holidays can be stressful for everyone. Try to embrace what you have rather than focus on what you don’t.

At Horan & McConaty, we have decades of experience helping families and individuals find their way through loss, and we’re here to help during this time. Here are a few resources that may be helpful to you:

  • Serving the Denver Metro area, Heartlight Center is a nonprofit gathering space for grief support, education, and comfort. Visit their website or call them at (720) 748-9908.
  • Call any of our funeral home locations at (303) 745-4418. We are always available to listen and provide you with support and resources. Our mortuaries serve the Denver Metro area including Aurora, Lakewood, Thornton, Centennial, and Arvada.

There are also many things you can do at home to honor and remember your loved ones this season. For example, you can hang a special ornament on the tree or set an extra place at the table. In my family, we go around the table and share memories of my grandmother – it helps keep her memory alive and creates a healing tradition. You can also try writing a letter to your loved one, set out pictures of them around the house, donate to a cause in their name, or visit a place that was special to the two of you. Remember that even when you feel alone, there are always people to turn to for support. 

We hope you and your family find peace and joy this holiday season.

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