Creating Opportunities to Mourn During the Holidays by Kristen Ernst, MA, LPC

The holidays are fast approaching. And while many are planning family festivities, buying gifts, and keeping family traditions, those that are grieving have expressed many mixed emotions about the upcoming holiday. Whether a family has lost a loved one recently, or many years ago, there is no timeline for grief and most likely traditions have changed since the loved one died. Those well-intentioned people that help those that are grieving, tend to tell the family to “stay busy.” But it is important that anyone who is associated with the grief community gives mourners the space to feel and the permission to slow down. The message of staying busy becomes a resounding gong that invalidates the emotions of the griever and exhausts the person to an unhealthy state. For those that know better, especially those in funeral service, the message must be clear. Slowing down is essential to the grief process.  And although one can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, staying busy does not create meaning. Intentional activities create meaning. Slowing down and listening to the body honors the loved one.

Funeral directors and other support people have a unique opportunity to companion those in grief. Those in funeral service have helped survivors honor their loved ones in the most vulnerable way. And those in funeral service have the honor of starting them on their grief path. You have the opportunity to model good grief skills. You always attend to families with tenderness and compassion. And because they trust you, you can create opportunities for families to mourn.

One way to help people mourn during the holiday is through a holiday remembrance program. Bringing people together that have had a loss helps them to feel seen and also gives them the opportunity to honor the life of one that is missed dearly during this time. Creating a holiday remembrance program can be a way for families to honor their loved one for years to come. Meaningful programs contain a reading of names, music, and an opportunity for people to gather. Ideally, some sort of keepsake to honor the person could be given to those that attend. It would also be helpful to have a grief expert to speak about what to expect in the grief journey and how to move through the emotional rollercoaster. Funeral homes can partner with hospice companies and counseling centers that specialize in attending to those in mourning.

The caregivers for those that are mourning, are not exempt from their grief in their lives.  As a grief counselor that had a son die, it is important for me to attend to my own grief needs during the holidays. Here are some ways to honor your feelings and add some holiday self-care:

  1. Be intentional about your activities.  Learn to say no to events, so that you can say yes to rest and honor your emotions.  
  2. Create your own rituals around the holiday that honor the loved one.  Buy an ornament.  Light a candle.  Write a letter to your loved one.  Honor this part of your grief journey.
  3. Reach out to those that understand you.  Creating community is critical in every milestone of the mourning process. Lean on each other. Create a trustworthy team.

Leading by example, honoring your own losses, and creating opportunities for those to mourn cultivates a strong grief community.  Those in funeral service have an obligation to teach those in mourning how to connect in new ways with the person they lost.  Companioning those during the holidays prevents a feeling of isolation and honors the life that mattered.