Finding ways to honor losses at the holidays

angel of grief
Angel of Grief monument in the Hill family plot, Glenwood Cemetery in Houston. Photo by Michael Schaffner.

by Ann G.

The winter holidays are a time of cheer and cozy family times—for many of us, but not all.   More than we realize, many people feel past losses more acutely at this time of year, and even changes from the usual rituals can bring sadness.   Beyond knowing that a bittersweet feeling at holiday times (and anniversaries) is normal, there are resources to turn to for help, and for ideas that will help us cope.

Probably the most straightforward is Healing your Holiday Grief: 100 Practical Ideas for Blending Mourning and Celebration During the Holiday Season.  This volume acknowledges the complexity of having feelings of sadness at a time that has been one of joy in past years.  The suggestions  are clear and helpful, and the judgement-free tone feels calm and supportive.

Another way of finding ideas for navigating grieving is to read how other people have handled the same issues.  Two best-selling and heartbreakingly wonderful memoirs of grief are Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and Roger Rosenblatt’s Making Toast: A Family Story.  Didion’s only daughter Qiana fell ill just before Christmas one year, and her husband died of a heart attack just after visiting her in the hospital.  It sounds almost too depressing to engage with, but in Didion’s hands it is a thoughtful and considered story, one of how she came to terms with both deaths and her own changed life.  Rosenblatt tells of the slow journey towards a new life for his daughter’s family after her death, including making perfect toast for each grandchild, with his customary gentle humor.

And, even fictional accounts of grief can offer ways forward.  Pulitzer-prize winner Oscar Hijuelos offers such a book in Mr. Ives’ Christmas.  In what the New York Times called one of the deepest and best of his novels, Hijuelos relates the story of Edward Ives, whose seminarian son is murdered just before Christmas in 1967.  We see the adopted immigrant Mr. Ives struggle to come to terms with this tragedy, and at the same time with his adopted country, his religion, and the meaning of his own life.

One thought on “Finding ways to honor losses at the holidays”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these books! As someone whose family has suffered loss at this time of year and mourns other losses as well, this is a light that shines the “you are not alone” beacon for all of us.

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