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Finding meaning this season in stories of grief and gratitude

The holiday season stirs up a swirling vortex of emotions - nostalgia, joy, grief, frustration can all intermingle, leaving many feeling alone amidst the cheer. In this season full of both light and darkness, connection and isolation, we need insight to navigate the complex terrain of family, loss, gratitude, and grief. 

Our latest episode of the Peaceful Exit podcast is a collection of wisdom around death, dying and the full spectrum of human experience from our guests over the last year. Here are just a few of the lessons that I have learned: 

1. Honoring those we’ve lost 

We honor the grief many feel in missing loved ones this time of year, while also celebrating the memories and rituals that keep loved ones with us. Neuroscientist Dacher Keltner shares the concept of “awe” - that feeling of vastness we get from nature, music, or memory that can ties us back to those who have died. This can be found by deeply listening to a favorite song of a loved one or gazing out from a viewpoint and taking in the vastness of the world. 

There are many creative ways to incorporate your loved ones into your celebrations. Author @Rebecca Woolf shares how she carves out that space for her children with “Dead Dad Day,” and allowing each of them to grief in their own personal ways. Simple rituals like hanging a stocking for Grandma or playing Dad’s favorite tune, open spaces for grief while letting light shine through. 

2. Navigating family complexities 

We also tackle the complexities of family - aging parents, strained sibling ties, tensions old and new. Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor introduces us to the four characters of her extraordinary brain, sparking insight on how our neurobiology shapes personality and perception.  In understanding ourselves and those we gather with, we can grow compassion, forgiveness, and connection. Meeting each “character” - responsibility, nostalgia, sensory experience, contemplation - can allow you to give yourself and those around you compassion and understanding. 

3. Finding your holiday frequency 

Ritual grounds us, nature connects us, music sustains us. The full spectrum of loss and love, tension and tenderness course through our traditions. We all seek relief from isolation, understanding amidst uncertainty. Justine Mastin, MA, LMFT, LADC and Larisa Garski share insights about family and community from their therapist perspective. Family is just as much the family you make as you were born into. They also reject the idea that romantic relationships are the center of life and offer an alternative – putting community first, which can help relieve our sense of loneliness during the holidays. My hope is that in sharing stories like these, we can discover insight and possibility for more peace, more meaning inside grief and gratitude alike. 

As we navigate the highs and the lows of emotion this season, may we find stillness, connection and compassion. Through ritual, understanding and shared stories, may we honor those no longer with us, while also forging new bonds of peace among those gathered round our hearth. 


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