Ask St. Ann’s – Honoring the Holidays with Hope

By Sister Mary Lou Mitchell, Director of Pastoral Care at St. Ann’s Community

After the loss of a loved one, it’s not uncommon to hear someone wish they could skip the holidays because they cannot imagine how they will get through them alone. In reality, the holiday season can still be a time of hope and strength for the living, filled with the love they need to heal.

The only way to make the pain of loss go away is to work through it, and shedding tears is a positive sign that you’re on your way. The pastoral care team at St. Ann’s Community recommends being kind, caring and tender to yourself as you grieve, just as you would be toward another person.

Viewing your loss through the lens of gratitude is also essential. Remember who this person was in your life and all the joy you shared. Stay open to all the love and attention your children and grandchildren still have to offer. Take time for self-care that feeds your body, mind and soul.

A new approach to the holidays

Reclaim the activities and traditions you shared and add your twist to take the first step toward honoring a loved one who’s passed.

For example, rather than skipping a holiday service, ask a family member or friend to go with you. You could also host a holiday dinner and leave your loved one’s chair empty at the table to acknowledge that things are different.

Simple gestures like these open the door to healing because they help you and others feel safe and free to share memories and to experience the love that remains within you and all around you.

Healing from a painful past

If the holidays were never a joyful time for you because your late spouse or family member was unkind, you could find hope in how you handled yourself and express your gratitude for lessons learned.   

For example, did you treat the person with kindness even when they couldn’t reciprocate? If the answer is yes, you could thank that person for helping you develop the gifts of compassion and courage.

Also, now that you’re free to experience the holidays on your terms, discern what you’d like to do differently to bring yourself joy.

If someone is struggling with grief, you can gently help them open up by sharing a poem, a conversation or a photo. If the person won’t let you in, don’t force it and don’t get frustrated. Give them the time and understanding they need.

Find hope in a community

Losing a loved one may prompt a move to a senior living community. Choose one that embraces grief as part of aging and has resources to holistically support seniors and their families, especially a spiritual component to care rooted in their faith tradition.

As hard as it may seem, healing from the loss of a loved one is within everyone’s power. Keep hope and love alive by honoring them during the holidays. These gifts keep on giving, and it’s never too late for you to receive them.


Mary Louise Mitchell, SSJ, PhD, RN, is the director of pastoral care for St. Ann’s Community, which offers a full continuum of eldercare options. You can reach her at 585-697-6446 or [email protected], or visit


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