Holiday Grief: Find Comfort & Connection in Memories

Christmas and the winter holidays can often be a sad time for those who are grieving a lost loved one.

There is no timetable for grief, and sometimes our journeys of missing a lost loved one will be lifelong. The intensity of the grief we feel, though, is often magnified around the holidays—that sense of yearning for someone, of remembering them in a most visceral manner (through the tastes of the holiday food, the smells of an evergreen tree, say, or the feel of the hugs and stockings and warmth of the fire)...

Even amidst the joy, we may still feel sadness—and that’s not only okay, it is normal.

I am heartened to see many articles addressing the needs of the grieving, and in particular, am grateful to Sheryl Sandberg for going beyond her bestselling book Option B to create a community around the idea of resilience in the face of adversity. The Option B website offers ways to

  • connect with people who understand

  • immerse oneself in inspiring stories—or share your own

  • get practical advice for talking about loss and other challenges.

Here, I wanted to share two simple ideas—principles that have helped me on my healing path, and ones that I do believe can have a worthwhile impact on others.


Shared memories are a gift.

“Nothing makes me happier than someone asking me about my dad and what he was like,” writes Jahanvi Sardana, who lost her father to brain cancer in early 2017.

My own mother died eight years ago this month (three days after Christmas, to be precise), and I still feel exactly as Sardana does: The best gift—for Christmas or at any time of year—is simply, definitively, a shared memory of my mother.

I cherish when people share specific memories: That time my mother made everyone in the car laugh so hard that they had to pull away from the McDonald’s drive-thru because no one could talk through their guffaws. The time my mother hugged a coworker when he was having a bad day. The time she made spinach quiche for the elderly couple she saw at chemo every week. Or how, after wearing one blue sock and one black sock to the office, she combated her color blindness by having a friend help her label her laundry by color.

These are not monumental memories. They are moments.

But in their specificity, my mother comes alive for me.

I, too, feel connected to the person sharing the memory—they knew my mother, they experienced her. As I have so few people with whom to reminisce, these moments of sharing are even more precious to me when they happen.

“Keep your loved ones alive in your conversations, your memories, the way you live because end of life in no way translates to end of relationship,” Sardana says.

Remember that your recollections are a balm to the soul. Don’t ever refrain from sharing, or thinking that your memories may prove too painful; on the contrary, I can almost guarantee that your stories—no matter how inconsequential they may seem—are welcome to someone who has experienced a loss, whether that loss occurred yesterday or a decade ago.

Grief is a form of love, and there is no timetable for when to stop grieving.

Grief is another form of love.

At the memorial service for my grandmother, there were lots of sympathetic hugs. I remember those and the many words of support vaguely, through the fog of loss that shrouded me on that day.

One memory, though, is vivid: My friend Marc told me, “Your sadness is big because your love was big.” Those weren’t his exact words, but they capture his meaning, an idea that seemed new and comforting and obvious all at the same time. In his Marc way, he told me how lucky I was to have experienced such a loving relationship with my grandmother, and how my grief was proof of that love. What a revelation.

It was also evocative of my mother’s enduring philosophy, that we should be ever grateful. In that moment of loss, thanks to a friend’s words, I felt connected to my mom, and blessed to have had my grandmother in my life.

“The greater the love the greater the grief,” wrote C.S. Lewis, echoing my friend’s wisdom.

Jahanvi Sardana, who wrote about her father’s recent death, would agree, it seems: “Grief numbs your body, breaks your heart, and drains your veins, but grief also is just another form of love.”

Be patient with yourself, and gentle in your grief.

“Grief is tremendous, but love is bigger,” Cheryl Strayed says. “You are grieving because you loved truly. The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of death. Allowing this into your consciousness will not keep you from suffering, but it will help you survive the next day.”

Yes. Yes.


Related Reading:

The Healing Power of Remembrance: “The prescription for joy and healing after loss is to remember.”

Mommy & Me: How a struggle to tell my mother’s whole story turned into a more intimate portrait of love.

Notes from a Funeral: Sharing memories about lost loved ones to heal—and why we don't honor our families through story sharing now.

Legacy Book FAQ: Answers to some common questions about what goes in a legacy book, and how they are created