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Emmanuel Hospice Can Help You Navigate Grief During The Holidays

You’re hurting. And you’re not alone.

Embracing the above pain can serve as an important step toward reconciling your feelings during the holidays – days that our culture insists should be spent in joyous celebration, but that in truth can provide special challenges to those who have suffered loss.

“Grief can surface especially when the holidays come around, and it can be triggered by a whole host of elements that aren’t usually present in our everyday lives,” says Merrin Bethel, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “It can be tough to manage.”

But not impossible, she emphasizes, especially if you are able to acknowledge the potential for rough roads ahead, and consciously take steps to prepare for grief that tends to get in the way.

Compounding the situation these days is the ongoing pandemic, which can add more layers to the grieving process because of social distancing and the threat of COVID-19 itself.

“We’ve lost routines and a sense of normalcy, and this can be especially traumatic at the holidays,” Bethel says.

So, how does one cope?

“Planning ahead of time is something we really encourage,” Bethel says. “And that means having open and honest conversations with yourself, as well as people in your close circles, including those with whom you might be gathering at holiday celebrations.

“Maybe you’re supposed to show up with a certain dish, or expected to host an event, but you aren’t comfortable being in that role. When you’re dealing with loss, it’s OK to take stock of what you can and cannot do, and then express that to others, explaining that you’d rather do one or two meaningful things instead of everything.”

That takes no small amount of self-compassion, a gift you might need to surround yourself with in order to move forward. For many, that’s an important part of the grieving process, which can be messy and complicated. When you practice self-compassion, you “speak” to yourself as you might to a good friend – being forgiving and supporting, and without judgment.

Is there a chance someone in your circle will bristle at your reluctance or inability to be all-in? Surely, says Bethel. In which case you simply tell the truth gently, “This may sound awkward,” she suggests saying, “and I hope this doesn’t jeopardize our relationship, but this is where I’m at, and I hope you can respect that, same as I respect where you’re at.”

At the holidays especially, sights and sounds and even tastes and smells can send us into a tailspin, and sometimes we just need to walk away, Bethel says.

To those who wonder why you’re bowing out, you might need to acknowledge your vulnerability, and perhaps answer them with: “I’m hurting right now. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m doing my best to cope with some of the things I normally would enjoy during this season.”

Another strategy for coping with grief at the holidays is to turn it inside-out and try channeling your feelings into caring for others. But it’s important that you not suppress your own grief in the process.

“It’s all about being purposeful with the way you navigate your feelings,” Bethel says. “Keep the lines of communication open and be real when it comes to expectations.”

For more information on coping with grief during the holidays, Emmanuel Hospice is hosting several sessions entitled “Handling the Holidays” in the first-floor conference room of 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids:

  • 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Dec. 7
  • 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14
  • 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Jan. 11

The grief support events are free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to wear a face covering and practice physical distancing. Those who are interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to or 616.719.0919.