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Grief in the Midst of Celebration

You are welcome to share Dr. Gloria Lee’s article:

Over two weeks ago, we learned the sad news about the passing of Stephen “tWitch” Boss, the DJ of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. He allegedly took his own life. He was 40 years old and leaves behind his wife and three children.

I reflect back on all the famous people who have taken their own lives over the past few years, Robin Williams, Anthony Bordain, and Naomi Judd, just to name a few. It reminds me that fame and fortune doesn’t elude us from pain and suffering. This is part of the human experience—our common humanity.

I also think about clients whom I’ve supported over the years, who have lost a loved one due to suicide. There are no words for this kind of loss.

Did you know that only 29% of families who lost a loved one due to suicide (or addictions) receive support from others, whereas 76% of families who lost a loved one due to other factors receive care? This discrepancy adds to the pain and sorrow of the suicide.

During this time of year, the holiday season becomes excruciating for those who have lost a loved one, no matter what the cause of death. It’s a grueling reminder of what is lost and what can never be again.

December becomes a busy month for therapists like me, who support the bereaved and help them navigate the festive season. How do you enter back into the arena of life and celebrate with the living, in the midst of suffering?

The answer is…you hold space for both.

You honour the life of the person you lost by remembering them, allowing yourself permission to feel sad, angry, lost, empty, and everything in between. You build meaningful rituals to include them as part of your celebration (because they are with you in spirit anyway). Talk about your loved one and how this season feels different now without them. Don’t worry about others feeling uncomfortable, that’s not your problem.

AND…you conjure up the courage and give yourself permission to be present with the living, as much as you can. And that’s it. No one expects more from you and everyone understands that you won’t be the life of the party.

For those of you who know someone who is grieving during the holidays, be brave and address the big elephant in the room. The bereaved often feel bad talking about their loved one, fearing that it will dampen the mood or make others feel uncomfortable. They appreciate you talking about their loss because most people avoid this topic with them, like the plague, which then adds to their feelings of loneliness and sadness.

You can say something as simple as, “It must hard for you to celebrate with us, but I’m glad you’re here” or ask, “How are you doing in midst of all the festivities?” That’s it.

We will all be in this situation one day where we are either the giver or the receiver of this support. So, let’s lean into to these difficult conversations and love each other well, in our clumsy and awkward way.

May we be for one another the light and joy of this holiday season.

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