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Reflections on Grief and Loss Pre-Holidays

Gabriella Helkowski headshot

Gabriella Helkowski

Grief is a primary feeling for those who have lost someone close. We will go through grief with every single person who has ever loved. Grief is an emotion that can come with loss. People who are grieving may experience complex emotions like feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, sadness, numbness or confusion.

In 2017, my sisters and I experienced a different Christmas. As we woke up that morning, everything seemed like our usual Christmas morning celebration. Soon after we opened gifts, my parents, who had seemed a little off that morning, asked my sisters and I to sit for a few minutes because they had some news to share with us. They both teared up and proceeded to tell us that my grandmother had died that morning. We were devastated. She had been battling stage 4 breast cancer and although she chose to stop treatments, we thought she had some time left for us to say goodbye. After our initial shock, we each took some time to be alone. I sat in my room scrolling through pictures as my parents came in to check on me. We talked for a little bit about my grandmother and how proud of each one of us she was. It made me cry some more, but my mom hugged me and let me cry. Soon after, one by one, we began to gather in the kitchen. My dad shared that a couple of weeks prior, my grandmother had asked when Christmas was. Christmas was her absolute favorite day of the year. She was one who shopped all year long and decorated the day after Thanksgiving! We felt that she was holding on until Christmas Day. In some ways, it was comforting that she fought so hard and was able to get to Christmas Day. However, it saddened us that she did not get to celebrate with us. My family chose to continue with our traditions as she would have wanted. It was hard knowing she would have wanted to see everyone open their gifts, have dinner together, and talk about the meaning of Christmas.

Grief is tough to battle anytime of the year, but especially during the holidays. Here are some tips that you can use to help with these emotions during the holiday season. The first is to set boundaries with holiday events. Attend events that you are comfortable going to; it is okay if you miss out on a few things. The second is to tune into your grief emotions. Some may experience difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. Whatever you feel is valid and it is important to acknowledge what you are feeling. The third is to plan ahead to fill the holiday roles. This will just make things easier in the long run and eliminate excess stress. The fourth is to honor old traditions and memories. Although it may seem difficult, it is important to remember the good. The fifth is to identify grief coping skills. Everyone is different so take some time to figure out what coping mechanisms work for you. The sixth is to volunteer and do something charitable. It is always good to give back, and you will leave feeling rewarded knowing you helped others. The seventh is to lean on others during challenging times. Once you have established who you can lean on, make sure to talk to them about what is going on and how you are feeling. An eight-coping tip is to seek out online or in person grief counseling groups. Ninth is to find support from the faith community. Another action is to create a routine to help you maintain a sense of order and purpose and focus on things you can control. For example, try to keep a regular sleep schedule and maintain a healthy diet. The final tip is to give yourself permission to grieve and embrace memories this holiday season. Feeling grief is inevitable, so take time to feel these emotions, but do not forget to enjoy this time of year, as well. 

Meet the Author

Gabriella Helkowski

Gabriella Helkowski is a Faith Inclusion and Belonging Apprentice in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Fall 2022. She graduated with her Bachelor of the Arts degree from Mercyhurst University. When not working, she likes to spend time with her friends and family, photography, cooking and traveling.

1 comment… add one
  • Nancy Nov 18, 2022, 1:06 pm

    Gabriella, Thank you for sharing your story and your insight. This is very thoughtful, and such good advice for this time of year. The Holidays are a time for sharing, love and family – thanks for reminding us!

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