The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time when people gather to celebrate with those we love. As the song states, it can be the most wonderful time of the year. But, it also can be the loneliest. If you have lost a loved one or suffered a breakup with a spouse/significant other or friend, the holiday season is a constant reminder of the pain.

Q. Joan, tell us about things that have been painful in your life.

Joan: I know that pain all too well. It wasn’t that long ago that I spent most of my time grieving the loss of my mother, sister and marriage (all within a period of six months). During the holidays (and to be honest most any other day), I would scroll through social media posts, watch TV shows and commercials, and long for the fun and love shared by friends and family. Everyone appeared to be living Hallmark moments, except me.

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Q. Grief at any time of the year is painful, but can it be especially traumatic during the holidays?

Joan: I recently had a conversation with grief expert, David Kessler, in which we spoke about the stages of grief and how the feelings that accompany a loss can be heightened during the holiday season. While it’s natural to try to suppress the painful memories, according to David, “Healing doesn’t mean forgetting, it means remembering with more love than pain.” And, he says, that happens with time.

Q. Is this where the stages of grief come in?

Joan: Yes, to better understand what you may be feeling, David explained the stages of grief, which he and Elizabeth Kubler Ross created and adapted. David cautioned that these stages do not necessarily occur in order and they may repeat.

The first stage is denial. This is the disbelief that a person is gone. It is the shock at the loss and the changes that will now occur in your life.

The second is anger. David said that most of us do not allow ourselves to feel angry at the loss. He remarked that he is amazed that we will get mad at traffic, but not the loss of a significant other.

The third stage is bargaining. Before the loss, this is what is promised if the event doesn’t occur. After a death or loss, this is the regret and/or guilt that haunts. What if something had been done differently, would the outcome be different?

The fourth stage is depression. David believes that situational depression is the sadness that is felt after a loss. Someone is gone and that situation is depressing. Society tells us we are broken and cannot make it through the pain, but David says we are not broken, we are sad, and we have the strength to get through this. It’s going to be devastating, but it can be survived.

And finally, acceptance. This doesn’t mean the loss is liked or okay, but it is accepted. The reality of the loss is acknowledged.

David added that he is working on a sixth stage, which he calls meaning. This is when we find and make meaning after a loss. This is the mother who starts an organization after the loss of a child, or the woman who follows a passion project after a divorce, etc.

Q. It seems hard to believe we can get through such times, even though most people clearly do. Can we come out better on the other side of the pain?

Joan: Loss can be life-changing and overwhelming, and at times the pain will be unbearable. But, over time, the pain will transform and life will be more reminiscent of what is familiar.

This past Thanksgiving, for the first time in years, my home bustled with activity. My children, friends and family gathered around my table to share a meal. Laughter filled the room. As my oldest son prepared to leave, I hugged him and said, “It feels normal again!” He understood, smiled, and hugged me tighter.

David was right. The pain was excruciating for a long time, but now, when I think of those I lost, I remember with more love than pain. And, you will too!

To hear my complete interview with David Kessler visit: