November 29, 2015

As we begin the holidays, do you find yourself wanting to skip them? Or maybe you feel like hibernating until January? If so, my guess is that you are among those who have lost a loved one in the past few years.

If your holiday bag is full of grief instead of gifts, let me reassure you of two things. First, you’re having a normal grief response. Second, there are some effective antidotes for the pain.

Recently, a new job as a part-time hospice chaplain gave me the opportunity to sit down with some bereavement experts. They quickly reviewed their recommended antidotes for the December doldrums.

First, nearly everything the grieving person feels in the first year is very likely normal. It’s natural for the grief-stricken to exhibit low energy, flatline emotion, poor concentration and a desire to withdraw socially.

Even with an overwhelming desire to withdraw, many folks admit that they don’t really want to miss the holidays. They feel that celebrating so soon after the death of a loved one feels disrespectful toward the memory of the loved one they’ve lost. They’d like to avoid the parities because they don’t want to be a “downer,” but they’ll drudge through it as their duty to family or co-workers.

If this describes you, my hospice friends tell me that you need to plan to keep your celebration as modest as possible this year. Don’t let anyone tell you that you must keep Christmas in the same big way.

Break things down to doing the simple things. Limit the special things to a few very special people. No one says you have to do everything with everybody.

Be determined to find the simple way of doing things. To keep this in mind, make some signs for your mirror or refrigerator that remind you not to overdo, over-shop or over-cook.

If this is the second or third year since your loss, you might be ready to restart the holidays. If so, begin creatively. For instance, put a special plate at the holiday table for the one you lost. I’ve even heard of instances where the children ask to have that special plate at their table.

Or perhaps you dare ask family and friends to bring an ornament for your tree that reminds them of the one lost. Encourage them to tell a story while they hang it.

Whether this is your first year in loss or your 10th year, there are some things that work for nearly everyone, even if they aren’t grieving.

Those things include being clear with your family about what you want from them in terms of emotional support. Be clear because, as they say, “mind-reading is best left up to fortune tellers.”

inally, when the New Year rolls in, there are at least two ways to avoid the doldrums of January.

First, volunteer somewhere. Since many will confine their charity to December, many shelters and kitchens find it nearly impossible to fill their volunteer needs in January.

Second, get away if you can, preferably to a sunny place. You’d be pleasantly surprised to find out how cheap January travel can be.

Finding hope beyond your grief is the toughest journey you will take. My prayer for you this season is that you might find that recovery and celebrate with “good tidings of great joy.”

Send comments to or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain. Leave your recorded comments at (843) 608-9715. Visit my website at where you can download a free chapter from my new book, “Hero’s Highway.”