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Grief and the holidays in 2020

Last Modified: November 12, 2020

Healthy Mind


This post was written by Jon Swanson, PhD, chaplain, Parkview Health.

We’re exhausted, many of us. We can’t quite figure out why. We can’t think as clearly as usual, we don’t have the motivation we used to. Our relationships are struggling, we’re more cranky.

We think that there may be something wrong with us. But there isn’t. It’s grief. Grief is our response to loss. Our responses can be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or a mix of all of those. And we’ve had a lot of loss this year.

The next months are full of family gatherings, holidays, and the expectations and routines that go with those. We wanted to give you some things to tell yourself as you approach the end of this year, to help you through what may be difficult.

Acknowledge that the last year has been hard.

When we look at our lives and our losses, we often think, “But their life is harder” or “I should be able to handle this” or “I have to be strong for my family.” This year, however, there have been many kinds of loss and they all add up. Lost jobs, lost vacations, lost classrooms, lost routine, and lost loved ones. All that loss adds up. So, looking in the mirror, looking at each other, and saying “This IS hard” gives us the freedom to start addressing the pain and the grief.

Give yourself and others permission to hurt.

We know that we do hurt because of the loss. But some of us don’t like to admit that we are hurting. Covering it doesn’t help it. Acknowledging that your family can be sad because you lost a grandparent is important.

Acknowledge that everyone is feeling the loss differently.

For some people, this was a close friend. For others, this was someone they hardly knew. Rather than expecting everyone to be experiencing grief the same way, identify how you feel and know that someone else may feel differently. And be courageous enough to talk about how hard it is to talk about things.

Embrace adjustments in the traditions.

Gatherings will be challenging enough this year. Families and friends will be considering whether it’s safe to gather, whether it’s safe to talk about all that’s happened in the world this year. For you, however, everything is personal. Someone is missing. So, make sure you intentionally talk about the traditions linked to that person.

You may want to consider whether a particular role or task the person did can be passed on to someone else or should be retired. If dad always lit the first candle, then talk about passing that role to the firstborn. If mom always fixed a fruitcake but no one else liked fruitcake, it’s okay to retire that tradition. Every family has traditions, and some can be retired. (And you may want to start a new tradition!)


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