How to Manage Grief During the Holidays

How to Manage Grief During the Holidays

The holidays are not always easy, and this year, more and more people are grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s okay to not be okay, but there are ways to navigate during nostalgia-filled holiday times. Listen to this week’s podcast for tips on how to get through this difficult holiday season.

Note: Below is a transcription of this Walking Our Talk podcast. Please excuse any grammatical or punctuation flaws, as the transcription is a written version of our fluid conversation.

Pauly [00:00:07] Welcome to walking our talk with Alan and Pauly Heller, join our conversation as we discuss practical ways to apply spiritual principles to your everyday life and help you walk your talk one step at a time.

Alan [00:00:27] Hi, this is Alan Heller. When we are walking our talk and I have Pauly here with me in the studio again, which is wonderful. Thank you for being here.

Pauly [00:00:37] I’m happy to be here.

Alan [00:00:38] Got a full-time walker and talker, she is in her own life, but she graces the studio here. I appreciate that.

Alan [00:00:46] So we’re going to talk about something that’s not so easy to talk about grief in the midst of the holidays. And, of course, Paul and I about 10 years ago, we lost our 32-year-old son to colorectal cancer in a 10-month process from the time that he found out about it. And, you know, 10 years ago, we were just hurting. And that year was probably the hardest year of our life, our marriage, our spiritual life, everything. I mean, it just and I was talking in a grief share group. Grief Share is a 13-week class that we do here at the church, Living Streams. And there are videos of experts and also people who have gone through grief. And for us, I just felt like when Josh died, we needed something here. We’ve helped many people over the years. But it’s different when it’s your son and it’s so much more personal. And it was very overwhelming. And the first year I I think we both sort of said we were numb and were carried by the prayers of God’s people. And fortunately, we have a very good life capital with people who love us and were there for us during that year when we were really emotionally a wreck.

Helping Others Through the Application of ScriptureAlan [00:02:16] And so some of you, as you go into the holidays, may be finding yourself dealing with an empty chair. And with covid, there are many people. I mean, at first I knew nobody that died of covid. And now we probably have 20 people that we know, both in other parts of the country as well as around the world that are friends that we actually know a sister who died in a foreign country. She just went into the hospital and within four days she died of it. And she’s 38 years old. Very sad. And just a lot of people dealing with a lot of stress this year. But we want to give you a couple of things that have helped us, as well as other people as we’ve gone through leading grief share. Now, um, it’s just a wonderful program that each week for 13 weeks we were able to talk about different parts of grief and the fact that it’s normal to not remember anything that you’re doing, even your keys, or sometimes I get in the car and go, where was I supposed to go? So.

Pauly [00:03:28] Well, the thing about losing our son, too, is just the whole timing of it, that he was diagnosed with cancer at the same time that the entire economy was crashing around us. We were in the midst of having to short sell a house and move back into another house. And, um, well, it mom and my dad and my mother died while our son was in the hospital right after he was diagnosed with cancer. So there was just so much going on. And Josh died on July 22nd of that year. And so. There’s just there’s so much sadness, I mean, sadness is not the only emotion of grief, but it’s the first one that just absolutely overwhelmed me. But in the midst of that, with all of the loss, we still had to go through moving out of our temporary house, moving into another house that we were in the midst of remodeling, knowing that we weren’t even going to be able to stay there. We were going to have to sell it. And there was so much transition, so much that was up in the air. And all of a sudden it was December. And you said something to me about, are you going to decorate for Christmas? And I, I just couldn’t even imagine. Well, the thing is, I did end up pulling out some lights and some garland.

Alan [00:05:30] And I mean, grief is a fatiguing thing for many people. Certainly, we misjudged how difficult and the energy just is sapped and you’re thinking, why am I so tired and why can’t I get anything right? So and I remember you, we just said we’re not going to send out Christmas cards. I mean, one of the things that you need to do when you are going into the holidays with grieving is you need to start thinking about what are you going to cut out, what are what is not essential and what is going to derail you. Right. I remember a year, probably a year after Josh died was when I started to go into deep depression. I mean, it’s sort of classic. I remember going to my counselor friend and going to lunch with them and saying, I have three counseling appointments and I don’t think I can do them. And he said, Alan, you’re depressed and you should be. And that was the first time. I mean, it’s just such a funny thing to me.

Alan [00:06:40] I’m going through, you know, the very classic symptom of a year afterwards. All the adrenaline is gone. I just totally tanked. And for a year and a half, I was in a clinical depression and had to work my way out of it. But the truth is, when you’re in grief, you can’t just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Pauly [00:07:02] Right.

Alan [00:07:03] So for you at the beginning, let’s talk about the beginning, sort of the middle and then how we got out of it. But the holidays, I mean, you still don’t want to put up stocking, right?

Pauly [00:07:16] Well, because we lost a son and our kids’ names are on their stockings, and to me, putting up stockings is all about the kids. I mean, why why do I need a stocking for myself? If you want to give me.

Alan [00:07:33] I have to give you socks and underwear and all that stuff.

Pauly [00:07:38] And yeah, a new toothbrush and lip gloss.

Alan [00:07:42] Yes. I remember David saying I’m done with that. I’m a teenager.

Pauly [00:07:47] Right. But to me, the very first our first child was Josh, and I remember making his Christmas stocking and embroidering his name on it.

Alan [00:08:02] And that just hits too close.

Pauly [00:08:04] It does. It’s just really hard. And not only that. The kids, our other kids are grown and married, have kids of their own, they’re moved out. They’re putting up stockings on their own fireplaces. And so. To me. Putting up stockings is just it’s it multiplies the sense of loss and painful thing. Yeah. So I just don’t want to spend some of that.

Alan [00:08:34] And, you know, we don’t argue about whether we need to put up stockings, but for the first year or two decorations, I mean, you are the Christmas the Jewish Christmas lady. I mean, you just love Christmas.

Family Video ChatPauly [00:08:48] But, um. Well, there was one other thing I wanted to say, though, to you, because having the stockings made me realize talking about them. We have two other children and we have four grandchildren. And just because we lost one of them, that doesn’t mean that the ones who remain are less important than the one that we lost. And we still need to rejoice with our other son and our daughter and their families and not lay guilt on them for having survived their brother’s death. You know, they’re still there.

Alan [00:09:39] Right. And I just think, uh, early in the process, I mean, it took us about four years to really Zig Ziglar and one of the grief share tapes talks about you. Don’t you don’t ever forget you manage the loss that’s there. You don’t just forget it and it’s always there. I mean, we talk about Josh, I would say every day at some point he comes up because he was such a he’s such a flamboyant guy. I mean, he’s a very special part of our lives. And we don’t want to I mean, that’s one thing that happens at the holidays. People don’t know what to do with your loss. They don’t know how to talk to you. They don’t know what to say or what not to say. And one of the tips from grief share was to let people know. I would like you to tell me your memory of Josh. And I remember a couple of years ago, I don’t know if it’s at Christmas, but somebody sent us a photo of Josh in Mexico that we hadn’t seen and excuse me. And one of the things that happens is you don’t get to see new photos. We see the same photos because they’re the ones we have. And so when people share a memory or they like on Facebook share, oh, I just thought of Josh because I was, you know, was on a mission trip. And I remember when he was, you know, petting the mangy dog in Mexico and after so so letting people know what you can take and what you can’t take another tip for the holiday is think through. How many things are you going to do? It’s, you know, in this time of covid, it’s very unique. I mean, there aren’t going to be as many gatherings of, you know, Ice Capades or the entertainment industry is flat theater.

Pauly [00:11:37] Right. The not so distant.

Alan [00:11:40] Right. And for some people that just don’t even want to risk it. So they’re not going out. So thinking about what if you’re closed in at home, you need to think about. Don’t just pull in, because that’s going to be very difficult. So take walks, you know, it’s physical. Grief is physical, emotional and spiritual. I remember at first I couldn’t even I would read my Bible because that’s why I told my counselors when they’re hurting, read your Bible. But I couldn’t tell you what I read. And, you know, for the first six months, I would read my Bible every morning, just like I always do. But nothing was going in. And then the other thing is physically, I was told, you need to get out and just go walk. I go walk in the mountain preserve or the guys, you know, forced me to go play golf when I just felt like, how can I be happy when my son just died? And that lasted for a year.

Pauly [00:12:39] Well, and grief takes a lot of energy and it takes physical energy because it’s just so consuming and so sapping. I think it’s hard to sleep. And so you just are tired a lot. The sadness is exhausting.

Alan [00:13:03] It emotionally saps you.

Pauly [00:13:05] Right. And then it’s like having static in the air, like every thought, every everything else that you’re trying to do, you’re having to work your way around this atmosphere that is just surrounding you.

Alan [00:13:22] So what was the difference between the first holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and then the second year for you? Well, as some people say, the first year is the hardest, but I think you I remember you saying the second year was the hardest because you were no longer, like, numb. Right of it for the first time.

Pauly [00:13:46] Yeah, the second year. Every anniversary. Birthday. The anniversary of Josh’s death and Mother’s Day Josh’s birthday was in May, Mother’s Day always comes in May, and then Josh was born on Memorial Day. So all in all,.

Alan [00:14:14] And he was a National Guard.

Pauly [00:14:17] He was in the National Guard. So there’s all of these things are virtual. Yeah. They all come together. And then and he died in July. So it’s it seems like they are they’re all just in short, sort of a short period of time that we’re just focused on him and our loss. And it’s tiring. But we’ve made some decisions about equality going to the cemetery. One thing that we did when he died and this is not making an argument for or against.

Alan [00:14:57] It’s different for everybody

Pauly [00:14:59] Cremation or burial, but Josh’s body is buried in a beautiful cemetery under a tree that was just a little stick of a sapling when he was buried there, and that every year when we go, that tree has got bigger and shadier. Other graves have been added to the area. And it’s a grassy spot. And we go and we kind of polish off the slack and sit and think about him.

Alan [00:15:32] And so that’s the process that’s important for people, for you to think about. What traditions do you want to keep? What new things do you want to do? For some people? They during the holidays, Christmas, they might make an ornament each year to remember or they might take out the old ornaments of that child or that person. And remember and I think remembering and honoring that life is very important.

Pauly [00:16:01] Well, something else about Christmas is that our very first year with Josh when he was just three weeks old, when we moved across the country from Illinois to California and I was out taking a walk with him in the stroller one day, and a lady who actually had no children of her own saw us walking by with the stroller. And she came out and gave me a cloth advent calendar that she had made. And like a craft class or something has all those little pockets for every day of the month of December.

Alan [00:16:44] Felt things that, yeah, you put a little ornament them on the lamb, right, baby Jesus.

Pauly [00:16:52] Yeah. And each one has like a little rhyming verse about why do we put the star in the Christmas tree and through the course of the month you end up telling the story of Jesus and all of that other around that and do that. But it was really Josh’s thing. And so after he died, again, kind of like with the stockings, it was just really hard to put that back up again. And of course, without kids around to do it with it, it didn’t make very much sense. So now I’ve given it to our daughter, Jess, and yeah, she does it now with her, with her boys. And so that just does my joy. Yes, it brings me great joy.

Alan [00:17:46] I remember saying, you know, I’m going to put the effort and you don’t put that up on going, Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Right. So that’s great.

Alan [00:17:55] Let’s give a couple of other tips. You know, what was the greatest help for you during that first or second year early in the process? What do you think helped you the most? For me, it was just the friendship –  people who they didn’t give me the answers, they just were there. They would just come over in. Give something or say something, just say, just wanted to give you the soup. Good to talk to you.

Pauly [00:18:27] Right.

Alan [00:18:28] Give a hug, whatever, you know. Now, who knows what you do? Give them an elbow.

Pauly [00:18:33] Well, and I think sometimes you can establish new traditions, something that doesn’t involve the one that you’ve lost out. One thing that has happened since Josh died is that I’ve started making biscotti every year like I have. That’s a recipe that I found. And so I make that every year and give it away as gifts to people. So it’s a new thing that I didn’t do before. And I and I need to do that to not get stuck in the rut of what used to be and just keep thinking about the way things used to be to be able to move forward and think, OK, we have new things to look forward to now.

Spending Time With GodAlan [00:19:21] So know that you’re going to feel nothing sometimes and sometimes you’re going to be overwhelmed. Um, everything takes so much more time and be gentle with yourself. One of the tips I would give and sometimes you just need to do the next right thing. I remember one of the things I used to do was go over to L.A. Fitness and just always take a Jacuzzi. And again, right now, I can’t do that.

Pauly [00:19:51] Right.

Alan [00:19:52] But finding something that soothes you in a healthy way instead of alcohol or sex or, you know, I understand why the pain that I went through could have driven me to do some things that I normally wouldn’t do. So be careful about that. Keep good friends around, safe friends. You know, if you could give yourself one piece of advice now or the people that are listening, what would you give to them who have had a great loss this year?

Pauly [00:20:24] I think be kind to yourself. Listen to what you’re saying to yourself. Listen to the tone of voice that that is talking to your head. And like I have a whiny voice that shows up in my head. And I I realize that that whiny voice is like the worst part of my flesh.

Alan [00:20:50] And so be careful.

Pauly [00:20:52] So listen to what’s going on inside of your head. And when you hear a whiny voice or a critical voice or a really negative voice, just say. I’m not listening to you that is not Jesus.

Alan [00:21:14] And for me, I think it was just having a good friend. Just hang with a safe friend, somebody that’s not going to fix me, so we’d encourage you if you’ve lost somebody this season of life, take some time, be gentle with yourself, give yourself grace and know that it’s not going to always be this painful.

Alan [00:21:39] This is Alan and Pauly Heller. We’re doing Walking Our Talk. And if you want more podcasts or information, feel free to go to our website,, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time.

Pauly [00:21:59] This has been walking our talk with Alan and Pauly Heller, where we put into action those principles, we know from God’s word one step at a time, you can find more help at our website:



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