Grief During The Holiday Season: Embracing Memories

By Connie DeKrey, Bereavement Specialist

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Christmas 2004: This was an even-numbered year, which meant it was our turn to celebrate the holiday with my husband’s side of the family in Bismarck; odd-numbered years had traditionally been spent with my side of the family. But current circumstances dictated differently. My Mom was temporarily staying in Fargo to receive radiation treatments recommended by her oncologist, but not available in her hometown. She would not be up to a road trip, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her spending the holiday alone in an unfamiliar community.

So, I invited my siblings and their families to Fargo for “Christmas Brunch on the Prairie,” complete with singing carols around the piano. I will never forget the image of my frail Mom, sitting by the fireplace in her wheelchair, singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” with such a peaceful, joyful smile on her face, surrounded by representation from four generations of her family… a memory to embrace.

Early December 2005: Once again I have invited my siblings to my home— an early Christmas, late Thanksgiving, and celebration of Mom’s birthday. Mom’s wheelchair is not parked by the fireplace this time—we had buried her just three months earlier. But I sense her spirit in our midst, and I feel her pleasure at the volume of conversation, the swells of laughter, the exchange of tears. We are continuing to convene as a family—Mom’s most heartfelt wish.
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This time of the year at Hospice, it is typical for us to offer grieving families suggestions regarding how to cope with their sense of loss during the holidays. But beyond that, we strive to encourage them to embrace their memories. The memories of those we loved, at first very painful to recall, can become a source of an ongoing sense of connection, even after death. When we embrace these memories by celebrating the legacy of their lives, we honor the relationship that is forever intertwined with our own personhood.

I encourage the seeking of tangible, intentional ways to maintain one’s sense of connection. Think about your interests, talents, even your passions, and exercise them in a way that helps you to move through your grief in a healthy way. Some examples might include:

  • Participating in a shared remembrance tradition (such as a candle lighting or annual dinner)
  • Creating a video of your loved one’s life
  • Making a scrapbook or memory box using photos and heirlooms
  • Assembling a loved one’s favorite recipes, poems or stories into a booklet
  • Planting a tree or memorial garden
  • Having your loved one’s clothing items made into a quilt
  • Designing artwork or composing music in your loved one’s memory
  • Volunteering for, or designating a gift to, a charity in the loved one’s memory

For me, following the death of my mother, I found myself enmeshed in numerous hands-on creative projects which allowed me a good deal of time to reflect on my memories. When shared with others, these tangible projects invited the telling of stories. Stories keep our memories alive, and we will find that the healing of grief begins as these memories are embraced.

Connie DeKrey joined Hospice of the Red River Valley in 1993, and for ten years worked in patient care as a medical social worker.  She has worked with the Journeys department as a bereavement specialist for the past seven years.  She particularly enjoys the opportunity to provide education to individuals and groups about living, dying and grief.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving all, or portions of, 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email questions@hrrv.org or visit www.hrrv.org.

2 Responses

  1. Mary

    It’s true that the “firsts” after a loved one dies are the toughest. Facing Christmas the first year after my father died was not something I was looking forward to. But I heard a grief counselor at Hospice talk about mixing things up a bit over the holoidays, and maybe even starting something new.

    It was just too hard to think of my father not presiding over a turkey dinner from the head of the table, a table at which 12 of us would be seated with a kid’s table or two not far away. So I took on hosting duties and we switched to a Christmas morning brunch buffet style. I also purchased a beautiful ivory and gold pillar candle that we lit in memory of Dad. That candle continues to serve as the centerpiece on my dining room table at Christmastime.

    Nothing will ever replace Dad, but somehow starting a new tradition honors his memory even more.

  2. Pingback : Grief During the Holiday Season: How Do You Cope? « Hospice of the Red River Valley

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