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Holiday Grief Programs: Why We Deserve and Need Them

Holiday Grief Programs: Why We Deserve and Need Them

I wonder how many funeral homes are conducting holiday programs this year. Are you requiring masks, will your staff wear masks? Will you do these programs yourself or bring someone in from the outside? Or are you too exhausted from a busy season and the pandemic, and you’ve decided to not have a program this year?

What I am learning from the mental health experts, is that our community’s grief and loss is very intense, especially this year following the pandemic. The mourning and emotional needs of those they are counseling are more critical than they have ever seen before. They share that counselors have run out of appointment times to see clients until several months into 2022.

Why is mental health important for us in funeral service?

It means we must step up and do something to help our communities that are grieving this year during the holiday season and beyond. In addition to helping our families and our community, I believe having grief programs will help us as well. I also feel that especially this year, it is important to be more self and staff-focused.

Many of you have lost your own family members from COVID and so have many of your staff members. We all know of friends who have experienced death, many of them multiple deaths in the last year. If we don’t take care of our mental health and that of our team members, how will we be able to serve our families and community effectively going forward?

As I write this, it is December 3rd and perhaps some of you may think it is too late to put on a holiday program. I believe you still have time. Consider finding a speaker who is a mental health professional in your community or a clergy person with good grief training and skills. For those of you that have celebrants on staff, have them help you design a meaningful program. After all, we can arrange and conduct a funeral with 3 days or less notice, surely, we can set up a holiday program in the next week or two.

Listen in on my upcoming podcast, Your Funeral Coach Talks

You will hear my interview with Kristen Ernst MA LPC, owner of the Center for Hope and Healing, who has been the holiday remembrance speaker for Baue’s the last 5 years. Kristen and I talk about elements of the program and what funeral service companies can do to better support those who mourn. Kristen also works with other funeral homes, teaching and training funeral directors. Her insights into the importance of meeting the emotional needs of our families and our staff are critical for us all to learn. I hope you join us.

Why do you and your staff need a holiday program?

Let’s consider a few factors.

*You and your staff are tired; some are exhausted and “burnt out” after the pandemic.

*You and your staff may be mourning a special someone this year.

*You are human and deserve an experience that allows you to remember your loved ones in a special way.

*It is a perfect time to invite your staff and their families to attend, to show you care for them and recognize they are important to you.

*It is a healing experience that you all deserve, so it’s ok to be a little self-focused.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a well-known educator, thanatologist, and founder of the Center for Loss, tells us that “When words are inadequate, have a ceremony”.

My personal holiday ceremony experience

 I remember the holiday season the year after my dad died, I was 30 years old. I had met some ladies at a fall convention that were running a holiday program called “Holiday Help”. I shared the story of dad’s sudden death, how our family and our staff were really struggling. I shared that dad always made Christmas so very special for all of us personally and at the funeral home, and how his death had left a huge hole in our lives. I asked them to come to St. Charles that year and put on their holiday grief program for our community. I admit I was selfishly thinking of my family and staff’s loss more than I was those we served. We felt pretty lost that first year and didn’t know how we were going to “get through” that first holiday. Yes, we were all funeral directors and should have been able to handle it right? I learned quickly that year, how very human we are and how intensely we also feel loss.

We had over 200 people come to our program that year and more ever since. We encouraged our staff to bring their families and friends. After I introduced our speaker, I listened and learned more about grief and loss. I remember crying a lot that year, my grief was so intense.  I came to realize since then, that I selfishly needed that program as much as the families we were serving. During the candle lighting I reflected on all the holidays we had as a family and as dad’s name was read, I cried again as I am human too. It was all I could do, to stand back up in front of the attendees and thank them for coming.

Grow your program and make it special

We have continued this holiday remembrance program each year for the last 34 years because of what we learned at this very first program. We have worked to enhance the program even more. From setting up memorial trees to handing out special ornaments, to a video and reading of the names, to passing out “hug bears” to children, to providing a very touching candle lighting ceremony, we strive to make the program a healing experience.

Over the years, we have had hundreds of family members attend who tell us how helpful and healing our program is each year for them. At home, 34 years later, I continue to set up a special place that has a picture of my dad, mom, and grandparents. I hang their memorial crocheted snowflake ornaments on my tree, and I light a candle to remember them.

I have reflected on this first holiday remembrance program; I realize that it started us all on the path to healing as we needed to learn more about grief and loss. I understand more now that what we do really does make a difference in people’s lives, including our own, and that we need to do all we can to help our communities and ourselves.

We since have added a Spring Remembrance Program. Each fall we bring Dr. Alan Wolfelt in to speak to our community on various topics about grief and helping those who mourn. We offer in-person and virtual grief support groups and a grief yoga class. I believe we can never have too many grief programs because we know it helps both us, our staff, and those who mourn heal.

So dear readers, consider having a program for yourself, your team members, and your community. I promise it will give support to those who need it most this year and help them (and perhaps you) continue the path to healing.

If you need more information on the elements of a holiday program, feel to reach out to me or my Collaborative Partner, Kristen Ernst at

Be a little selfish this holiday season because your families, your staff and, yes—you too deserve it!



Lisa Baue