by Janna Benson Kontz, MDiv
Grief never takes a break—no matter the time of year or special occasion. Once grief is a part of your life, it’s a constant companion. Grief takes the holidays we’ve enjoyed for years and shapes a whole new perspective for us—one that can be mixed with both sadness and fond memories. On that note, grief has the capability and capacity to “take” a holiday.
Stories from those who are grieving help us understand the rawness of the holidays when you’ve faced a loss. The same stories illustrate the collective resilience of the human spirit during difficult times, like grief:
- Grief “takes” New Year’s Eve and makes it into another passage of time instead of a new start. He’s no longer here to watch the ball drop, make his famous eggnog or toast to midnight with our friends. I’m reminded of another holiday where he is missing; another season has passed without him. But on the other hand, grief also reminds me of all the new starts we celebrated together. Together was so good. It reminds me that grief honors the love we shared and the love that still embraces my heart.
- Grief “takes” Easter and shows me all the photos of my mom and all the frilly Easter dresses and bonnets she would sew for all the little girls. I look at my grown-up daughters and see them once again as six- and four-year-olds hunting eggs in mom and dad’s yard dressed in those frills and lace. My arms ache to feel my mom’s hug as we came through the door on Easter morning to the smells of baking ham and scalloped potatoes. Then, my 30-something daughter is throwing her arms around me as they enter my lasagna-scented kitchen, and I am reminded that my mom’s legacy is alive and well in my daughters and me.
- Grief “takes” Thanksgiving and tells me I’m alone now. I sit in a house filled with family—all people I love dearly—and grief reminds me that you, my life partner, are missing. I feel alone even though I’m physically not. There’s love all around me, a hug, a smile, a story shared about you with smiles and tears. I’m grateful for another Thanksgiving.
- Grief “takes” Christmas – oh, how it takes Christmas! Finding the perfect gift was your gift. Your gift-finding was thought-filled and legendary. Your gifts weren’t the most expensive or wrapped in the prettiest paper, but they were the most anticipated and treasured. I miss your many gifts, dear sister. But then, here in the glow of the tree is your grandson who is so much like you. He hands me a handmade gift he chose just for me, and you are looking at me through his eyes. Once again, you’ve given me the perfect gift!
These stories tell the tales of grief “taking” a holiday. At the same time, they tell the tales of hearts retrieving and shaping, and making the holidays something new within the old, something whole among the broken pieces, something beautiful right beside what might be seen as ugly.
Grief doesn’t take a break, a sabbatical or a vacation from broken hearts. Its intensity lessens over time as the memories quietly change from hurtful to healing. Grief becomes part of who we are, even during holidays. Our loved one’s memory and spirit lives on through every family member and friend. Each one holds a part of our loved ones inside of themselves. We get to choose how we honor that memory—with sadness or with celebration for a life well-lived. We get to choose how we claim the life that was and the memories we still hold.
It’s true that holidays and traditions can be difficult amid grief. Sometimes, we need to find new traditions, not to replace the old, but to make the old traditions even richer. New traditions can honor our special person, not by forgetting who they were, but by remembering their impact on our lives.
So, allow grief to “take” a holiday and make it something even better, more tender, special and full of renewed celebration. Old traditions and new memories intermingled can be refreshing and wonderful.
If you or someone you know is grieving, Hospice of the Red River Valley offers free community grief support resources and grief support groups. Please contact us, or call 800-237-4629 and ask for the grief department.
Janna Kontz, MDiv, is a grief specialist with Hospice of the Red River Valley.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.