The holidays can be a wonderful, warm, emotional time, when friends and family come together to celebrate tradition and spend quality time with one another.

But that same intimacy can turn cold in the face of a loss, when instead of time spent with a loved one, we are faced with an absence.


“I’ve worked here as a grief counselor for about 10 years and we always find this time of year is particularly hard for people,” said Jessica Roschen, a bereavement counselor at Carroll Hospice. “The holidays are such a special time, and when you are grieving and your loved one recently passed, or even if they passed any time — it’s thinking about them and missing them.”

If you have a hard time during the holidays because of the loss of a loved one, Roschen first recommends anticipating your feelings and planning ahead.

“We suggest to be around your family, be around your friends, try not to isolate yourself,” she said. “Try to have things to look forward to throughout the holiday season.”

That could mean going to a religious service, a show or lunch with a friend, Roschen suggested.

“Just something that gets you out that’s a happy thing,” she said. “Have something at least each week that you look forward to.”

Memorializing a lost loved one can also help with feelings of loss around the holidays, Roschen said.

“A lot of people will put something at the grave site, a wreath or silk flowers,” she sad. “Some people have trees decorated all in memory of that person, or they make specific ornament for that person or they cook their favorite cookies or their favorite meals.”

There are times when a loss might affect one family member more than others. A parent who has lost a spouse, for instance, might feel that loss more acutely, or in a different way than their children, Roschen said. Our instinct can be to avoiding speaking about the person lost, she said, but we should ignore that impulse.

“Having worked with so many people, even people whose children have died, they have a lot of friends that back away, but they really do want to talk about the person,” Roschen said. “Their fear is that they will forget the person and they never want that to happen, so they want to share memories and they want to talk about the person.”

One way to do that, according to Roschen, is to share humorous memories of the lost loved one, or to mention holiday things that person enjoyed and then to follow the lead of the bereaved family member.

“One thing maybe to share is we know that the love does not end with death,” she said. “We always have a bond of love with our loved ones.”

And for those having a difficult time processing feelings of grief during the holidays, or anytime for that matter, Carroll Hospice offers various types of grief counseling for the community.

“We offer individual counseling, one-on-one, or family counseling, and then we also offer support groups,” Roschen said. “It’s a free service for the community. We offer four individual sessions and then all of the support groups that we offer, people can come to as long as they need to.”

For more information on counseling session and support groups, call Carroll Hospice at 410-871-8000 or visit


One other huge factor, Roschen said she would be remiss to forget, is the role of faith in processing grief and during the holidays.

“So many people lean on their faith, knowing that they may one day be with their loved one or see their loved one,” she said. “That’s a great thing that helps people in the holiday season, too.”

That’s one reason why Westminster United Methodist Church will be holding a Longest Night/Blue Christmas service on Thursday, Dec. 21 — the night of the winter solstice, the longest of the year.

“Sometimes during this season when everyone is ho-ho jolly and trying to be happy, people are just really struggling,” said lead pastor the Rev. Malcolm Stranathan. “They could have lost a loved one, they could have lost a job situation or be going through any number of reasons for grief that play out at this time of year.”

In contrast to a bright and ebullient Christmas Eve service, however, the Longest Night service is more subdued, Stranathan said, with the house lights down and candles lit — it’s more quiet and reflective.

“It’s not upbeat, nor is it maudlin. It’s more of a peaceful service,” he said. “It’s really thoughtful and provoking. In many ways it’s my favorite service of the season because it really enters into the holiday with more of a thoughtful mode.”

This linked to the United Methodist tradition of celebrating the advent, Stranathan said, a penitential season — preparation of the self in the dark for the return of the light, both the sun and the birth of Jesus Christ.

“This is not a permanent thing, this is a season of our life, and once again the light will return and therefore opens a healing moment for folks,” he said. “What these services really provide is an opportunity for people to experience and acknowledge their own feelings as they head into the holiday time.”

And that’s key when it coms to dealing with grief around the holidays, according to Roschen, that people acknowledge their feelings and celebrate in a way that is comfortable for them.

“There is no right or wrong way to grieve,” she said, “and no right or wrong way to go about the holidays.”