top of page

Holidays can be painful: If you’re struggling with grief you are not alone

Photo by Kittlendan; Blue Christmas (also known as the Longest Night) is observed during Advent. This year it occurred on Dec. 14.


By Elizabeth Perry

Sadness around the holidays is more common than people like to admit.

For those struggling with the loss of a loved one during this time known for celebration, there is community support available.

“Sometimes I think this time of year there’s this compulsory joy, and there’s no reason people have to feel that,” said Sara Irwin, pastor at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carnegie.

Irwin holds a “Blue Christmas” mass at St. John’s. She said the tradition is about five years old, and the inclusive Christian religious service helps people process grief through quiet music and the opportunity to “offer up individual prayers for healing.”

“God takes all the parts of being human, all the joy and all the sadness and all the ambivalence,” Irwin said.

Blue Christmas, also called the Longest Night because they are often held on the longest night of the year, have been adopted by many Christian churches, not just St. John’s which they observed this year on Dec. 14.

Roberta Farls, assistant pastor at Christ Community Church on Chartiers Avenue said on New Year's Eve, from 6:30 to 7:30 they have an open house to talk to the pastor about issues the parishioners may be having.

“It's a time to reflect and talk to the pastor if you want, and talk about what happened in the new year and the old year,” Farls said.

There is secular help, too, for people who may not want to seek support through religion.

Michon Dubbs, a counselor at Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks, conducted a one-time holiday remembrance in November where people talked about ways to cope with the recent loss of a loved one.

Techniques like making a remembrance ornament, writing a letter to the absent person or keeping a journal of stories about the person who is gone can help some cope with grief, Dubbs said.

“Meditation can help with grief,” Dubbs said.

The practice can be done without a group setting, which can be preferable to many people who find social interaction at this time of year exhausting. Experts recommend setting boundaries during this time of year – it’s all right to say no to events or previous traditions if they seem too painful.

Sometimes, creating a new norm with other friends or family can ease sadness and create a sense of hopefulness about the future, but that isn’t for anyone else to determine but the person grieving.

Focusing on elements one can control is part of boundary-setting and can also be beneficial.

Ultimately, the most important thing to know if one is struggling with grief, is they can ask for help.


• Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks offers free counseling sessions open to any member of the community and free trauma support all year round. For more information, call (412) 331-1685, or email

• At St. Phillips Ascension Roman Catholic Church those who passed that year are commemorated on All Souls Day with a mass as is traditional among Catholics. Additionally, the Crafton/Ingram church at 114 Berry St., provides grief support every third Thursday of the month from 2 to 3 p.m. Participants don’t need to register, they can just show up. To find out more, email or call (412)922-6300.



bottom of page