In search of “trunk or treat” candy, I was walking through a local store and heard carols playing on the overhead speakers. Halloween candy and scary costumes sitting beside Rudolf, who was draped with twinkle lights. The “first” set of holidays are difficult enough, but possibly more so when Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas begin in September and overlap and finally end sometime around January 1st. I can fully understand those who are dreading the holidays wishing they could to go to bed in October and awaken January 15. The sights, smells and sounds are constantly reminding us of what we’ve lost and sometimes they leave us in a cacophony of sights and sounds.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Patrick O’Malley’s website on grief recovery:

“A few years after our son died I was bathing our dog, and a profound surge of sadness came over me. It took me few minutes to realize that the scent of the antiseptic soap I was using to shampoo the dog triggered the memory of being in the NICU, scrubbing up to visit our son.

We know our loved one in a physical environment of sight, sound and scent. Depending on the length and involvement of our relationship, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of sensory connections to our loved one.

When you wonder how long grief takes, consider the myriad of ways you knew your loved one through your eyes, ears and nose. Often these sensory memories bypass your psychological defenses and go right to the core of your loss.

You are not lingering in your grief. Your senses do not forget.”

I could not agree more. Our senses do not forget. That being said, how do we prepare for the onslaught to our senses in the next 90 days of overlapping holidays?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Accept that we “cannot NOT grieve”. When we love (something or someone) and lose, we grieve. And, when we resist the emotions, we often become exhausted. So, give in to the idea that we can grieve now or grief can surface in unhealthy ways another time. But we cannot NOT grieve.
Consider planning now how you will deal with the upcoming holidays by focusing only on this one year. Anticipate that the holidays will have sad and emotional times no matter what you do. But they will also have the potential for sweet and tender moments. Possibly even fleeting moments of joy. Sitting down to “make a plan” will also offer the potential for emotions of loss to surface in privacy. (Pre-emptive planning is a term that I have learned from Dr. O’Malley when folks are anticipating a time of loss. I like that term and I think it is appropriate when dealing with grief around the holiday season).
Finally, as a congregation of faith, we are reminded and encouraged by the passage of scripture which reminds us that we do not grieve as those without hope. This means that in the midst of our grief, we believe that life does not end with physical death. (1st Thessalonians 4:13).

In our next article, we will discuss common symptoms of grief as well as other ways of planning the holidays “pre-emptively.”

The articles on Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays are provided by Deb Sewell, lay minister and grief/bereavement support at Arborlawn UMC. This is the first in a series of 3 articles in preparation for Hope for the Holidays.

Each article will include insights from Dr. Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O’Malley is currently writing a new book about grief recovery. More information on Dr. O’Malley can be found at his website:

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