Of Grave Concern: How do we reconcile holiday traditions with the grieving process?

Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — Several years back in another state I made funeral arrangements during the holiday season for a gentleman who had passed away. I met with his sweet wife over the next few days planning the service.

One day she arrived at the mortuary unexpectedly and asked to see me. She was seated in one of our arrangement rooms, and I saw that she was very upset. She had pulled several tissues from the tissue box and held them tightly in her hand as she wept with her head bowed. I sat down next to her and placed my hand on hers and waited for her to be able to speak.

After several moments, she looked up at me with desperation in her eyes and declared that she had just stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things as she prepared for her family to arrive. She told me that as she entered the store, she found herself facing Christmas music playing overhead and decorations adorning the store.

Other grocery shoppers that surrounded her were laughing with their families and enjoying the yule tide carols. She told me she was overcome with grief and froze with her hands grasping the grocery cart, feeling alone, very much alone.

As she stood there, unable to move, she wanted to declare loudly, so everyone could hear, “Doesn’t anyone know that my husband has died?!” She wondered how everyone could go on as if nothing had happened. She said that after what seemed like an eternity, she composed herself, left the cart full of food in the isle and slowly left the store.

We talked for over an hour. She was able to get through that moment of deep grief and push on. I knew inside there would be many more of these “moments” ahead that would awaken memories and feelings within her: anniversaries, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter and the list goes on.

So how does one cope during these times? During the holidays, others will have expectations of us. We will wonder if we should even cook a meal or attend a meal with others, put up a tree or attend religious services. The traditions of the past can come back to haunt us and we may feel inclined to shut ourselves off from the world.

So what are we to do with “traditions” during the holidays? The “cycle of life and death” continues whether we want to acknowledge it or not. There are those that suffer. Grief is real and raw. Traditions can get in the way.

Ralph L. Klicker, an author and counselor in the area of death, has said that following the passing of a loved one, some traditions may lose their joy and even end altogether. He continues with the following advice:

However, do not discount the possibility that new traditions can be started. If you always host a meal on the holiday and serve the same food, try changing the menu. You can ask someone else to act as host this year. Many people have found that eating out that day can reduce stress and anxiety. Open gifts at a different time or location. Some holiday grievers have found that going away on a short trip during the holidays was a welcome change. Remember that if you try something new and it doesn’t work, you do not have to keep doing it.

The holiday season can bring hope. We can reach out to that widow or widower, family, neighbor or friend and help them find their way during what they had hoped would be a joyous season. Can we help them feel some joy and hope? Perhaps we can make a difference by reaching out and starting some new traditions of our own during the holidays. Let us help.

If you would like to learn more about this important topic, please stop by Spilsbury Mortuary in St. George or call us for free copy of our wonderful booklet “Grief and The Holidays.” Together, we can make a difference and make the season brighter.

Written by DAVID JOHN COOK, public relations and funeral director for Spilsbury Mortuary.

• S P O N S O R E D   C O N T E N T  •


  • Spilsbury Mortuary | Address: 110 S. Bluff St., St. George |  Telephone: 435-673-2454 | Website.
    • Hurricane location | Address: 25 N. 2000 West, Hurricane | Telephone: 435-635-2212.

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  • Comment November 21, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    I read this to the end and I’m a little weirded out that it’s actually an advertisement for a mortuary.

  • utahdiablo November 21, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    Death is something everyone will have to deal with at some point in their life, and when a person dies, sometimes it does happen during a holiday, we lost a dear family member just before Memorial day one year and the person at the mortuary helping us with the funeral plans to bury our family member that weekend, asked with a straight face what our plans for the holiday were and if we were planning a picnic or BBQ….WTF??? ….you just carry on the best you can

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