Facing the Holidays after Losing a Loved One


With all the joyous rituals, decorations and memories that surround the winter holidays, a recent death of a loved one can cause stress and turmoil for those who are grieving.

This is a normal reaction and those who are grieving shouldn't be afraid to take the time and space needed to work through it, recommends Rex Allen, manager of grief support services for Providence Hospice Seattle, Everett and Olympia.

"Going back to our roots is really important and everything on the table is up to be reconsidered," he said. "What may have made sense at one point may not make sense today. The closer you are to when the death occurred, the more challenging it will be."

While her mother won't be part of the family celebration this year, Joanne Almvig will honor the past and also celebrate with family, including her new grandson, Carter.

It's okay to turn down invitations to holiday events if you're not feeling up to it, Allen said. "Take out your calendar and just write 'NO' on it. When someone says, 'come do this,' check your calendar, say your calendar says 'No.' It takes a lot of courage to say 'this is how I'm going to do it right now because this is what I can do.'"

The death of a loved one brings change, and change is often hard to deal with. But in reality, Allen said, we are constantly changing. Instead of fearing this change, embrace it and grow from it. "The wonderful thing about the holidays—all the traditions are about remembering and renewing. They give us another chance to step back at the end of the year and say, 'here is where I have grown, here is what I'm having trouble with, and I can determine what that means for me in the future.'"

Seattle resident Joanne Almvig faces the holidays this year after losing her 86-year-old mother Shirley Burtt in May 2013. Almvig has participated in grief support services offered by Providence Hospice of Seattle to help her work through the feelings she had to deal with after caring for her ailing mother and watching her fade away.

"My biggest fear in attending grief class was that I would be taking care of other people instead of taking care of myself," Almvig said. "They dispelled that immediately. They made us all feel comfortable. They explained to us that it wasn't our job to take care of other people, that we were there for ourselves."

While Almvig will miss her mother at the holidays this year, she also is using the time to turn within and create some new traditions. "I had to take time to grieve the past, accept and appreciate it for what it was, and find a new normal," she said. "Holidays are different now that I am no longer a caregiver."

While Burtt won't be part of the family celebration this year, Almvig will still take time to honor the past and looks forward to celebrate surrounded by her husband, children, friends, and other family members, including a new grandson.

While it's important to be in the moment and reflect on the past, Allen tells grieving families to look forward as well. "Eventually, as we move through this season and the days get warmer and the leaves change and come back, what we feel today will have shifted in ways that hopefully we have had the opportunity to learn. That is one of the most magnificent things about grief—it's a teacher if we open ourselves to it," he said.

Contributor Cynthia Flash owns media relations firm Flash Media Services. Providence Hospice of Seattle is one of her clients.

Votive Candles

Grief Workshops

Providence Hospice of Seattle offers grief workshops throughout the year, including the following workshop in December:

Lighting a Light for our Children—Remembrance and Candle-Lighting Service
Held on the International Day of Remembrance (Sunday, December 14), Lighting a Light for our Children unites family and friends around the globe in lighting candles to honor and remember children who have died. The 6:30 p.m. service is followed by 7 p.m. candle-lighting ceremony, at Providence Hospice of Seattle (425 Pontius Avenue N, Suite 300, Seattle). For more information, call 206-749-7704.

To learn about other community events and workshops held throughout the year, click here.