Navigating Loss During the Holidays

Eleanor Silverberg
BA Psych, MSW, RSW

The holiday season can be rough for those who are going through a significant loss. It can also be hard for those who, even though the loss occurred some time ago, continue to feel the absence of someone who was near and dear to them. Living in a culture that has a low tolerance to grief makes it even rougher to navigate. Assistance by showing support to family, friends and acquaintances can play a big part in making it easier for those who are navigating situational loss over the holidays.


Assistance includes acknowledging that situational loss is not just about death. Loss comes in many forms. It may get assessed as loss of health or a family member’s health. Other losses include divorce, empty nest, death of a pet, or any other significant life altering situation.


Once acknowledged, assess how you can provide assistance. Assistance can also take many forms depending on the circumstance and the nature of your relationship with the griever. If you see someone who has recently experienced loss in the supermarket or mall, how about if you approach rather than avoid that person? Situational loss and grief are NOT contagious.


“I don’t know what to say.” In a culture where grief is masked, it is no wonder that you feel uncomfortable around those who are grieving. If the circumstance does not involve death – like a marital breakup – the situational loss and grief does not get acknowledged at all. Approaching the griever, saying that you “don’t know what to say” is being genuine and honest. By approaching genuinely and honestly, you are showing more support than avoiding the griever due to your discomfort. .  .


Words are not always necessary to show support. Your silent presence may be just as or sometimes more effective. A compassionate smile and a caring hug are ways of expressing support without saying a word. The ability to listen is also key. These are ways that you can offer consolation and make those navigating loss not feel so alone.


Acknowledge, Assess, Assist by allowing grief in as part of this holiday season for those navigating loss. In the Tedx talk “Beyond Closure”, sociologist, Nancy Berns used a decorative closed box to demonstrate how our culture separates the space between joy and grief. Joy and grief are actually intertwined and it is more healing to not separate the two. So, while you get well fed with festive meals and decadent desserts, also keep in mind this healing food for thought.


Eleanor Silverberg




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