Hospice of the Valley

Hospice of the Valley

I recently shared a bittersweet experience with hundreds of strangers in a city park.

We didn’t know each other. It didn’t matter. We were all there for the same heartfelt reason – to honor someone we love, who isn’t here anymore. 

For 20-plus years now, Hospice of the Valley has welcomed families to a huge community remembrance event. More than 1,500 people came to the recent Light Up My Life gathering at Steele Indian School Park just after sunset. 

They watched a beautiful photographic tribute of their loved ones set to music and projected against the night sky on giant screens. They nibbled cookies and sipped hot cocoa. They laughed. They cried. They remembered.

It’s the remembering part that’s so hard. Especially if the loss was recent.

This article is for you – because ready or not, the holiday season is here. Those happy memories brushing up against you may come with piercing moments of heartache.

It may be the first time that someone besides dad carves the turkey. It may be the first time that mom isn’t there to add an extra dollop of butter that’s not in the recipe. It may be the first time someone’s stocking is missing from the mantle.

It may also be the first time you’re too overwhelmed to put up a tree, prepare a big dinner, or brave shopping malls blaring happy music and bustling with people.

So, don’t.

Grief experts say it’s perfectly normal to scale back when you’re grieving. Just because you lay aside cherished traditions this time, doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. You can choose to celebrate the holidays on a smaller scale this year. And maybe even create a new family tradition.

“A lovely way to honor someone,” says Hospice of the Valley bereavement counselor Joyce Vidal Thornburg, “is to come up with a way to celebrate who they were.” 

One idea is to ask each family member to write a note to, from or about your loved one – then put them in a place where everyone can take time to read them.

“And be kind to yourself,” Joyce advises. “You’d be gentle with a friend who was grieving – why wouldn’t you give yourself the same compassion?”

If you’re really struggling, consider attending one of Hospice of the Valley’s community grief support groups offered Valleywide at no charge. Times and locations can be found at hov.org/our-care/grief-support/grief-support-groups.

Most of all, remember that people who love you will understand your sadness – and that many of them are good listeners who would be honored to support you as long as it takes. Give them this joy!

“Let yourself experience the pain and tears and have faith that you will get through this,” says Hospice of the Valley bereavement manager Mara Goebel, “Do whatever you can, and let it be enough.”

- Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement for Hospice of the Valley. 602 530-6900.