For the media

5 ways to honor a lost loved one

By The Health News Team | December 24, 2020
Person holding a single candle

The holiday season can be very difficult for those who are grieving the loss of a friend or family member. This year will be especially difficult for the families of the
over 275,000 Americans who have died from complications of
"This isn't the happiest time of year for many people," says Colleen Linnertz, LMFT, SEP, a
bereavement counselor with
Sharp HospiceCare. "Some people have fresh loss or others just remember their loved ones during this time of year. There are many people out there that are struggling with loss during the holidays. Just recognizing that it is normal to feel that way can be helpful."
Linnertz offers these 5 ways you can process grief and honor a lost loved one this holiday season.

  1. Light a candle.
    "Lighting a candle is a simple way to honor your loved one, while also releasing some of the pain from the grief itself," says Linnertz. "Take this time to remember what has been most precious - who your friend or family member was, what they gave to the world and what kind of footprint they had on your own life."
    And since holiday gatherings are not in the cards for this year, Linnertz recommends you light candles virtually with extended family members and friends.

  2. Do something that reminds you of your loved one.
    Finding activities that remind you of your loved one can help with the grieving process. For example, you could look at specific photos, put up beloved holiday decorations or try recipes that make you feel closer to them.
    Participating in a shared hobby can also help during this time, although most in-person classes or activities are not possible at the moment. Linnertz says online forums can be an easier way to return to activities you and your loved one used to do together.
    "Sometimes it can be hard to return to a hobby that reminds you of someone you lost - it can feel like you are leaving them behind," she says. "However, because online platforms are a new way of participating in your hobby, it can feel more nostalgic and lessen those feelings of guilt or sadness for some people."

  3. Give yourself permission not to celebrate.
    Even though our celebrations are virtual this year, if celebrating in any way feels too much for you, that is OK.
    "Giving ourselves permission not to celebrate can help alleviate any pressure to feel jovial and participate," says Linnertz. "Release the pressure of how you are supposed to act, feel and look. Instead, look ahead to when you are ready."

  4. Focus on gratitude.
    Many people don't associate gratitude with loss, but for people with fresh loss, thinking of what you are grateful for can be its own kind of holiday ritual or tradition.
    "Find one thing you are drawn to that makes you feel happy," says Linnertz. "It can be warm socks on your feet or beautiful flowers in your backyard. When you are feeling a lack of energy or sadness, this is something you can grab hold of."

  5. Look ahead to the new year.
    "For many, approaching the new year has a bittersweet component," Linnertz says. "With the challenges of 2020, a new year can bring a sense of relief. But at the same time, it can be saddening starting a new calendar year when your loved one won't be there."
    To process these feelings, Linnertz recommends imagining you are packing your things for the new year. Think about what memories of your loved ones you want to bring with you and which ones you want to store in the attic for safekeeping.

No matter how you choose to honor the person who has passed, rituals - from virtual ceremonies to small gestures - can be a powerful way to honor their legacy.
"Any type of ritual or ceremony can try to capture and honor the aliveness of our loved ones, and can symbolize what is most important for us," says Linnertz.


Colleen Linnertz


Colleen Linnertz, LMFT, is a bereavement counselor and advanced care planning coach with Sharp HospiceCare.

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