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Blue Christmas

Dealing with grief during the holiday season

By Eugenia Jones

Many people associate holidays with warm, happy feelings that come from being surrounded with family and friends during the celebrations of special occasions. Traditions and memories shared between loved ones bring personal significance to most holiday celebrations. However, when a loved one has died, holidays can bring feelings of sadness and loneliness during a time once shared happily with someone now departed. The first year after the loss of a loved one can be particularly difficult.
Many McCreary Countians will enter this holiday season missing a loved one who is no longer physically with them. The family of McCreary County’s Sam Daugherty, who passed away as the result of a motorcycle accident in the spring, never expected to face this Christmas without their loved one.
“I still look to see him coming to visit,” Sam’s mother, Alma, said sadly. “He lived next door to me and was always so good to help. He’d carry the wood in, hang my laundry on the line, take me to the doctor and shopping. He watched TV with me every night and when it was time to go, he’d say, ‘Going home, Maude. Going to brush my teeth and read the Bible.’”
“He loved his motorcycle, his black truck, his music, and fishing,” shared Sam’s Aunt Wilma. “He was the best person you ever saw in your life. We didn’t realize how many friends he had until the visitation. He would come by often and check on me. Sam would help anyone who needed help.”
“Sam played the guitar and wrote songs. He loved classic country and gospel music,” remarked his niece Kathy. “Everyone said he sounded like his hero Hank Williams, Sr. It made him proud when people told him that.”
For Sam’s family and others like them who are entering the holiday season after experiencing the loss of a loved one, there are steps to help manage grief felt during the holidays. There are ways to merge the physical loss of a loved one into special occasions and bring new traditions and memories to life.
According to, it is important to realize and acknowledge the holidays will be different and accept the feelings that initially come with the change. At first, there may be feelings of anger, guilt, and loneliness. Understand these emotions are normal. Plan ahead for the holidays and decide what aspects are most important. Recognize emotional triggers and give yourself permission to cry if needed. Guide others as to whether or not you want them to talk about your loved one around you and tell them why. Know your limitations and say no to activities you don’t feel up to managing. Delegate and let others help and support you. Take care of yourself-physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Share memories of happy times with your loved one and don’t be afraid to laugh. As you count your blessings and trust your faith, find meaning in life by volunteering and doing good. Consider finding a way to memorialize your loved one.
The site offers a variety of suggestions for memorializing a loved one. Memorials can take the form of saying a prayer about the loved one before a Holiday meal, lighting a candle, sharing favorite stories, or creating an online tribute.
More suggestions for memorializing a loved one are offered on These suggestions include creating a photo collage, creating a work of art such as a poem or painting, visiting the cemetery with a special decoration and allowing a special prayer, poem, or song during the visit, making a memorial holiday decoration, or giving a donation to the loved one’s favorite charity in their honor.
Sam’s family confirms the difficulty of facing the first holidays without the physical presence of their loved one. Somehow, without being told, the family has instinctively found themselves following many of the experts’ recommendations to help cope with grief. They acknowledge this holiday will be different. They smile, laugh, and cry together as they share good holiday memories of Sam-especially of him choosing someone in the family to receive one of his famous “prank” gifts. With her heart still heavy, Alma is not quite ready to decorate the traditional Christmas tree or bake Sam’s favorite holiday dessert-chocolate pie. Perhaps sometime soon she will be ready to decorate and bake, but until then, she is OK with avoiding these two holiday reminders of her son. She cherishes reminders of Sam-the copper skillet that was his last Christmas gift to her, his beloved guitar, and other special mementos that mean so much.
Grief is part of the healing process, and it is important to realize that. Holidays after the loss of a loved one, can trigger many emotions. However, it is crucial to remember that while holidays after the loss of a loved one are never the same, they do eventually take on new traditions, new memories, and new meaning.


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