THE holidays are never the same when you’ve lost someone you love. If your grief is recent and raw, the exaggerated merriment of the season probably feels like a party you weren’t invited to. How do you bring yourself to fake another smile and ‘carry on’, when the one you love is gone? Even if time has allowed your grief to settle a bit, that box of ornaments you’ll unpack alone, or that favourite carol playing at the mall can blind-side you - and there you are all over again, gutted by the absence of the one you love, and raw with grief. The holidays are designed for joy. How on earth do you survive it all, when you feel so out of synch with the spirit of the season?

Especially at this time of the year, it’s so easy to feel alone in your grief - easy to feel that your grief is a burden to other people, that maybe there is something wrong with you and you should be able to snap out of it. The truth is that as wild and unpredictable as your grief might be, and as much as others, and you yourself, might wish it were easier, grief knows no time limit or pace, and it will have its way with you, one way or another. There is no right way to grieve, and there is no cure or fix. The ancient balms and tonics that help dignify the suffering, and that give us strength enough to carry it - music, poetry, art - and the comfort of true companionship, will at times afford you a measure of peace, but the rest is a mystery and takes time.

If solitude is what you crave right now, I hope you will give yourself permission to hide away. If the thought of staying home alone sends you into a tailspin, I hope you will consider reaching out and telling your friends how much you would appreciate their company. Most of us wish we didn’t have to ask for support, but sometimes we do. Sometimes our closest friends don’t yet “get” grief, or understand how much we need them - even when we push them away. They will get it, some day. Everyone gets a turn at grief.

On the days when you feel without hope that your grief will ever ease, just hanging on is enough. Getting out of bed, dressing, and eating can feel like small triumphs when you’re grieving. There’s great wisdom in the old clich?: One day at a time. It is OK to survive like this, just one day at a time. Our cultural ‘rules’ about grief - rules that make no time for grief, that compulsively try to fix it, or speed it up, or go around it, or medicate and numb it - don’t just hurt people who are grieving. They hurt all of us. They blind us to each other, and separate us from each other. If we really look, it’s not just joy that is all around us this holiday season. It is grief too: The friends who just lost a baby, the neighbour whose partner is slipping away with dementia, the refugee family who lost everything, the parents and friends of a teenager who committed suicide, the homeless people whose losses go beyond all words. If you know someone who is grieving, reach out so they know they’re not alone. That’s how we’ll build the community we all want to live in, and ultimately, die in.

Wherever you are in your grief, whomever or whatever you have lost, please know you are not alone. Sometimes the support of others who are grieving too can help ease the loneliness and validate the suffering.

Here are three of my favourite online resources:

And finally, sometimes a support group can provide just the right company for the journey. Hospice Northwest - our local community organization of trained volunteers who provide companionship to anyone at the end of life - offers four bereavement groups starting in January.

 Margaret McKee is a Hospice Northwest board member. This monthly column from Hospice Northwest examines various aspects of palliative support and bereavement services. It appears on the Healthstyle page of The Chronicle-Journal on the first Tuesday of each month. Call Hospice Northwest at 626-5570 for more information.

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