Grief – and the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’

holly‘Jane’ is 64 years old – and she isn’t looking forward to Christmas this year. Last summer her husband died after battling cancer for several years.

23 year-old ‘Emma’ is getting more and more stressed as the holidays approach. It’s her family’s first holiday season without her mother. She feels obligated to ensure her family has a “good” Christmas, but feels a complete lack of energy when she thinks of the work involved with decorating the family home, and buying and wrapping gifts…….           

Meanwhile, three year-old ‘Ryan,’ with a child’s innocence, asks his father if they will send Granddad a Christmas present up in heaven.

Each year as the holiday season approaches, there are hundreds of Janes, Emmas, and Ryans throughout our region who are spending their first couple of holiday seasons without a loved one.

Men, women and children of all ages are trying to mobilize their inner resources to find the strength to not only learn to cope with their difficulties, but to learn to live with them as well.

holding handsLosing a loved one is challenging enough at the best of times, but during those special times of the year such as Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s – when family ties are highlighted – that first occasion without a loved one can be especially painful.

In adapting to a “new normal,” we trust that people will eventually experience inner peace and that life will gradually regain its colour. However, when grief is fresh and familiar patterns are disrupted, many people need help with that.

In response, Eastern Health’s Pastoral Care and Ethics Department, in partnership with Bereavement Services, offers encouragement and support in the form of group sessions called Grieving: Coping with the Holidays.

ornamentsAs a Manager of Pastoral Care and Ethics, I do grief counselling as part of my role. In my eight years as an employee of Eastern Health, I believe that helping organize and facilitate these sessions is some of the most important work I do.

The sessions run about an hour and a half, and combine practical tips and suggestions with music and reflections. The sessions are designed for people over the age of 18; however, parts of the program assist people caring for young children and teenagers.

While my colleagues and I cannot “fix” peoples’ circumstances, we feel that we positively impact those who attend. And this happens in a variety of ways:

  • First of all, people benefit just from realizing that they are not alone. Most of us at one point or another experience “life’s crushing load” and find ourselves navigating through the sadness and pain of loss. Consequently, we can share information about the grieving process and explain why it’s normal for grief reactions to spike around the holidays.
  • Secondly, we provide people with the opportunity to simply talk – or to ask questions. Some people are not comfortable speaking out in a group, so we offer a social time after the formal part of the session so that people can approach one of the facilitators or trained volunteers. We also have information with us about Grief and Bereavement Information and Support groups that people may wish to attend at a later date. These support groups usually start mid-January to assist people through the challenging “winter blahs.”
  • Finally, we offer useful pointers to make the holidays more manageable. Everyone is different – what works for some does not work for others. As a result, we offer as wide a variety of helpful ideas as possible. Those of us who facilitate Grieving: Coping with the Holidays sessions have experienced bereavement; therefore, we only recommend coping strategies that we feel will benefit people.

candleOne of the misperceptions people have about attending Grieving: Coping with the Holidays is that being in the presence of others who are mourning loved ones will result in them feeling worse as opposed to feeling better.

But it has been my experience that the opposite happens – and a shared bond develops, as people listen to the experiences of others and realize they are not alone in their grief – or their reactions to it.

While I have been in situations where the degree of sadness in the room is palpable, we aim to conclude each session on a positive note. While Christmas or other special holidays may indeed be different this year, a sense of humour and an ability to still smile is the key to healthy grieving.

In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Our goal, then, is to companion with them on that journey of discovery.

This story was written by Rev. Jacintha Penney, a manager of Pastoral Care and Ethics with Eastern Health.

Grieving: Coping with the Holidays sessions will be held in various locations of the region as follows:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014
2:00-3:30 p.m.
Boardroom, Golden Heights Manor

Tuesday, November 25, 2014
6:30-8:00 p.m.
B.E.D.A. Building

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Lower Auditorium, Sacred Heart Church

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
7:00-9:00 p.m.
Multi-purpose Room, Placentia Health Centre

St. John’s
Monday, December 1, 2014
2:00-3:30 p.m.
Auditorium, Health Sciences Centre

Tuesday, December 2, 2014
7:00-8:30 p.m.
Auditorium, Health Sciences Centre

Tuesday, December 2, 2014
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Community Room, Coish Place (near Wal-Mart)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
7:00-9:00 p.m.
Boardroom, Interfaith Home

In the St. John’s sessions, there will be volunteers as well as signs posted from the main entrance to show you the way to the Health Sciences Auditorium. Please note that there are two time slots for this event in St. John’s.

If you require more information, please call one of the following:

Jacintha Penney/Paul Grimes at (709)777-6959
Peter Barnes at (709) 777-2167

If you cannot attend a session in person, but would like the handouts e-mailed to you or would like to have a telephone conversation with one of us, please e-mail:

Confirmation of appointment slips available upon request.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s