“I hate all calendars. Why do we have to have them?!” – Bereavement group member
It’s true, calendars can feel cruel to grievers sometimes. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and especially Thanksgiving and end of year holidays—each can feel like scabs pulled off a wound. So many of us at HCS and our patient families have lost loved ones and navigated significant individual and collective grief in these pandemic years.
Later, months or years after a loss, we might be able to remember our missing loved one with a rueful smile and “just” a dull ache in our heart, wishing that they were beside us enjoying a special occasion or simply watching a beautiful full moon. For my own part, on a recent night at home immersed in cooking dinner, “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles started playing. With no warning, I burst into tears, immediately associating that song with hearing the news at age 15 that my 22-year-old brother had been badly injured in a fire, dying a month later. I sobbed. Then, moments later, I found myself smiling – wistful and sad, but nonetheless also happy that my love and connection with my big brother was still very much alive even after 42 years since his death.
It’s OK that, eventually, you feel moments of joy again…and sometimes grief at the same time, as movingly described in this short TEDx talk by Nancy Bern https://youtu.be/w0rCfXSdYPE.
Wherever you or someone you care about is right now in the grief journey, the best thing you can do is to “hold space” for them or yourself. Aptly described by Heather Plett in her article The Liminal Space https://www.awakin.org/v2/read/view.php?tid=2346, the “space” of someone in grief is a state “of openheartedness, when we are raw, vulnerable, and exposed. In order to survive without further wounding, we need a container that will hold us with gentleness and strength, without short-circuiting the process or forcing us” towards “solutions” or being “fixed.”
Grief demands to be acknowledged and felt in all its mind fogging, confusing, exhausting and painful brutality. The greatest gift for those in grief is to “walk alongside” “without judging, fixing, belittling, or shaping the outcome. While supporting their boundaries and protecting our own, we offer unconditional support, compassion, and gentle guidance.”
What does ‘Holding Space’ look like during the holidays?
David Kessler, author and grief expert, collaborated with the Washington Post on a short video article https://youtu.be/BQAE7BVMp6U highlighting 5 tips for those in grief and their loved ones to consider during the holidays:
- It’s OK to be sad.
- Include your loved one in the holiday, in some way, if that feels right to you.
- You can say no.
- Ask for what you need.
- Give grief dedicated time.
Finally, know that you are not alone, and that feelings ebb and flow. Whether through reaching out for support from HCS’s EAP Program, myself as Bereavement Coordinator or other resources in your life, there is a path ahead and people who can gently walk it alongside you.
Author John Everest is the Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice at HCS