Holidays May Be a Time of Mourning, Not Cheer

Dec 16, 2013

This time of year is difficult for many who’ve lost loved ones, especially within the past year.

While it’s common for people mourning a loved one to feel intense sorrow, the pain can be acute during the holidays.


“There’s just so much emotion, and really and holidays are geared to spending time together with family -- traditions, nostalgia -- and they’re just really tough to get through, when you’ve lost somebody you love,” says the Rev. Judy Holmes-Jensen, a chaplain at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare All Saint’s in Racine. She calls the holidays “pain dates” for people grieving.

“Our memories are triggered by things like sounds and smells and sights. What is this holiday time without the Christmas songs or the smells of the things baking in the kitchen, you know, even the sights of lights and menorahs and Christmas trees,” Williams says.

Brookfield Licensed Professional Counselor Marcia Williams says the season shines a spotlight on what most people wish they had, “which is that we be together with intact families with warmth and love and not have this empty place that just screams that there’s something very, very wrong.”

Williams says the agony causes some mourners to feel like hiding, when everyone else seems to be celebrating. Yet she suggests those grieving attempt to see friends and family, even if briefly.

“Oftentimes what happens with isolation is that without any interruption, the pain and the darkness just deepens,” Williams says.

While Williams urges those grieving not to cut themselves off, she also suggests they give themselves permission to let go of holiday traditions, if they don’t feel “right” this year. They can pick them up again next year, if they wish.

Aurora St. Luke’s Chaplain David Jerger says for some though, next year might be harder.

“Sometimes people are in so much shock and are so numb from the loss, that the first holiday that they’re facing with grief goes better because sometimes they’re going through the motions, and sometimes it’s the second time around that they’re more aware of how great the loss is and how big the change is,” Jerger says.

There is help, through support groups and counselors. And Jerger says friends and family can support those grieving, by readily acknowledging the loss.

“The problem is, oftentimes those people that haven’t experienced the loss of that loved one as directly don’t feel they want to talk or raise the issue of the loved one even though it’s sort of like the elephant in the room, that person’s presence and influence is still a part of that gathering,” Jerger says.

Jerger says it’s important to celebrate the departed loved one.

Brookfield counselor Marcia Williams assures her patients that eventually they will reach a “new normal" -- and it will include joy.