When Krista Christensen lost both her stepson and close friend this past year, she anticipated her journey with grief would be challenging. She knew she would need some help and support to make it through the holiday season. The Heart 2 Heart for the Holidays event organized by the Palliative Care Services staff in Regina was just the support she was looking for.
“It was a very special evening. It was exactly what I needed and clearly, I was not the only one. Everyone I talked to appreciated the evening – every little detail. It truly was lovely… and loving. Heart 2 Heart. That’s how we get through these dark days… a shared connection, a special understanding, and the gift of caring for one another,” wrote Krista in her thank-you email.
The Heart 2 Heart event was held in Regina at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on December 6. A total of 250 people packed the church that night, and a little over 200 were participants. The event, open to anyone in Saskatchewan who wanted to attend, featured music, speakers, candles, ornaments and lots of opportunity for participants to interact with one another.
Brooke Larson, one of the evening’s speakers, lost her grandmother, mother and stillborn baby all in a short period of time. Brooke spoke to the group about how she got through her first holiday season by using the Christmas stocking she would have had for her daughter that year and filling it with the money that would have been spent on gifts.
“That Christmas morning, I found my sorrowful heart filled for a moment with joy and we knew that this would be our new tradition as a way to honor her,” says Brooke.
Last year, the family was able to donate just over $3,000 to a charity that supports families who have faced perinatal loss, called the Twinkle Star Project.
Ornaments made with seeds that can be planted were handed out to participants of the Heart 2 Heart retreat.
“This year, and for many more years to come, we will do the same.”
It wasn’t just a night for participants to learn to heal. Health care staff were also present to help others and themselves.
“We have some very difficult deaths on our unit which can cause staff to have their own feelings of grief and sadness,” says Marlene Jackson, Volunteer and Bereavement Coordinator for Palliative Care Services with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. “This event allowed them to deal with their feelings and begin to heal.”
For those who have suffered the loss of a loved one this year, the holidays will be different, Jackson noted. Individual counselling, support groups and grief retreats can all help deal with grief. Sometimes being with others who understand your loss is what you need.
Not everyone has the means or ability to attend an event like this, but many are experiencing the same feelings of loss and grief. If you are one of these people or know someone who is, here are a few tips from Jackson to help you through.
Many bereaved people find the time leading up the actual day to be harder than the actual day itself, which often “takes care of itself.” Knowing this in advance can be helpful.
Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to pass on invitations (just try not to isolate yourself completely). It’s okay to not stick to the rituals and traditions you have held in the past. Sometimes switching things completely can be helpful (eating out or ordering in instead of a traditional holiday meal).
Include the one you love – this might be done by lighting a candle during a meal, setting a place setting for them or taking some time as a family to share special memories of your person. Say their name, share some tears. If you just try to avoid all of this, it will creep up unexpectedly.
Make a donation (large or small) to a charity that your family member would have appreciated. Giving back to others sometimes helps us refocus. For one family, they each chose a different charity to honor their person. When they got together during the holidays, they shared why they chose the charity, and what it represented about their person they were remembering. They chose to share the money they would have spent on a gift for them this way.
Allow yourself time to be sad but also give yourself permission to be happy. No one can grieve 24/7, even if it feels all-consuming. You are not being disrespectful to your family member by laughing out loud at something that brings you joy.
For more information about upcoming support groups through Palliative Care Services, contact Marlene Jackson at 306-766-2384 or