How to Deal with Grief During the Holidays. ~ Liz Arch

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As a Funeral Director and Bereavement Educator for over 25 years, my mother Anne Sage dedicated her life to helping grieving families find support, comfort and healing in their darkest hours.

“For a person who has lost someone, the holidays can be a lousy time,” my mother says. “I think what often happens at the time of death is that suddenly you have to make all these decisions. It’s like planning a wedding without any of the joy. Frequently the immediate survivors are in a state of shock. They feel like it’s not real.”

She’s right. None of it feels real. It didn’t feel real when the doctors announced that my mom had terminal cancer in June. It didn’t feel real when they said she only had six months to live. Almost exactly six months later, it doesn’t feel real that she’s really gone.

I spent my entire childhood in awe of my mother and the way she so gracefully and compassionately helped others navigate their way through the tides of grief. Now, I turn to her words of wisdom to help me cope with my own perfect storm.

“You heal, but that business about getting over it? Nobody ever gets over it,” my mother once said. “You learn to live with it. You learn to live with the fact of it happening. You learn to cope with the sadness. You learn to let joy back into your life. People say, ‘You should feel this or that.’ There’s no ‘should’ with feelings. They just exist.”

Well intentioned people have told me how I should feel. I smile and thank them for their advice and support. I tell them what I think they want to hear—that my mom passed away peacefully. That she stayed positive until the end and when the time came, she just closed her eyes and let go.

But the reality is that there is nothing peaceful about cancer. It’s awful and heart wrenching. My mom is one of the strongest and most courageous women I have ever known, but cancer brought her to her knees. It ate away at her body and crushed her spirit with its angry claws. There was vomiting, morphine, constipation and unrelenting pain. There were tears, anger, fear and despair.

Yes, there was also laughter and love and the healing of old wounds. But in the end, she was simply scared. She didn’t want to die, but her body wouldn’t let her live.

I feel guilty for not being there when she died. I feel guilty for not doing enough while she was fighting her battle. But guilt, according to my mom, is normal and is experienced to varying degrees by everyone who grieves. She called it “the ‘woulda-shoulda-coulda’ syndrome” and said, “It’s beyond logic. People who qualify for sainthood feel guilty.” The important thing, according to her, is to acknowledge the feelings—whatever they might be so they don’t spill over like a boiling pot.

“We can feel guilty. We can be angry—at God, at ourselves. Grieve in the way that feels right for you. If you feel like crying, you should cry. If you feel like laughing, you should laugh. There’s no timeline and you are the expert in your own grief.”

For now, it still feels surreal. “Reality hits six weeks after the death of a loved one,” my mom says. “Until then, you’re either numb or preoccupied with all the business of death: doctor bills, estate processing, writing to friends. All the nice people who have helped go back to their own lives. Then reality hits you like a horse kicking you in the stomach.”

It’s been about four weeks since my mom died and I’m still a little numb.

The grief hits me in waves, and I cope by unrolling my yoga mat. I allow the tears to flow as freely as the sweat and when the tears don’t flow, I don’t force them. She taught me that it’s okay to feel numb. It’s okay not to be sad all the time.

She also taught me that it’s okay not to be okay.

As psychiatrist, pioneer in the grief field and one of my mom’s personal heroes, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross says,

“I’m not okay, you’re not okay and that’s okay.”


Liz Arch is the creator of Primal Yoga®, a dynamic yoga/martial arts fusion class that merges Vinyasa yoga with the artistry of Kung Fu and the grace of Tai Chi into a creative and mindful flow. She has over 10 years of experience in various yoga and martial arts styles including Power Yoga, traditional Northern-style Kung Fu and Yang-style Tai Chi. She is an ambassador for RYU(, a company that creates high performance eco-conscious athletic wear founded on the code of strength, honor, respect and sustainability. She teaches free yoga to women who are survivors of domestic violence and is a proud advocate for A Window Between Worlds (, the only national non-profit organization that uses art as a healing tool for women and children who are survivors of domestic violence. Connect with her online on her website,  via Facebook  or Twitter @primalyoga.


Ed: Kate B.

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anonymous Dec 16, 2012 6:41pm

Thank you, Liz. My mom's been gone five years now, and Christmas is still hard. Especially this year, with the shootings. Grief is powerful stuff. Here's a blog I just did with some practical tips for grieving over the holidays. Thanks for the reminder to cry if you feel like crying.

anonymous Dec 16, 2012 4:25pm

[…] How to Deal with Grief During the Holidays. ~ Liz Arch ( […]

anonymous Dec 15, 2012 5:24am

[…] How to Deal with Grief During the Holidays. ~ Liz Arch ( […]

anonymous Dec 14, 2012 7:38am

So beautiful, Liz! And all so true to me too!

Your Mum was obviously wise & loving, as much as Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Her books were salvation to me.

Now, through my coaching practise, I walk the grief path with my clients, grateful to them for being so brave, so genuine & full of emotions.

By experiencing death through the lost of my loving ones, I found my connection with the rest of the human race and that oneness helped me loads.

Sending you love & warm Mediterranean energy.

anonymous Dec 14, 2012 6:45am

Wise words of wisdom Liz. We are all human and losing loved ones is part of life. It's not the pleasant part of life but turns out to be the most important part of our life. Relationships form us, people touch us and you have expressed the feelings of grief simply but with great truth. Thank you.

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 3:08pm

beautiful essay. you are an inspiration, Liz. my heartfelt prayers go out to your family at this time.

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 1:55pm

thank you for this piece. I just want to say you are not alone. that you never know when thoughts of your mom will drop in and you'll have a little chat with her, or cry with her, or still share a laugh. she'll always be there. sounds like you had a very special relationship with her, and that won't end with her passing. my mom and dad still have a funny way of popping up 🙂 be well.

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 12:57pm

Thanks for your piece, and all the best to you as you grieve. My mother passed 5 years ago, and at times it still feels like yesterday. I was numb to it for about a year or two, and then it really sunk in and took me down for a while. I cried every day and at first didn’t really know why since so much time had already passed. But it had to do with the loss. Grief does come in waves and we all have our own timing and process. Much love to you this holiday season.

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 12:26pm

Wow, thank you for writing this.
One of my best friends has just gone home to be with her own mother with a similar diagnosis.
She is also a new mom – just at the point where I was loving to have my own parents’ guidance, seeing them in a new light and appreciating them more than ever.
I appreciate what you’ve shared and hope I can support her through this.

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 12:04pm

My stepmother just passed from cancer and my dad is going through all of this. They were married 40 years and it was like I was reading his words when I read yours. Many I know have had much loss this past year and this article is absolutely beautiful. Your mom would be proud:)

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 9:25am

Blessings to you, Liz, and thank you for sharing from your soul. It is important to share about grief so that others who haven't walked there as yet can begin to hold compassion for those of us that have, and that we ourselves who are sitting with grief understand there is no prescribed way to do it, it must unfold for each of us in its own unique way. I write a lot about grief, may you find some healing from my site if you choose to read it.

anonymous Dec 13, 2012 2:37am

Whether major or minor, there are many instances that can cause sadness or grief, which is normal in everyone’s life. We must learn to be more at ease with such feelings, as it can otherwise affect our mind and health adversely.

anonymous Dec 12, 2012 11:23am

Very heartfelt and honest writing Liz. For me the death of my father had an odd sense of finality that I still cannot completely describe or explain to this day (3 1/2 years later). His passing really forced me to look at my own life and work to embrace what was truly essential to my being – helping me reconnect with aspects of myself that had gradually slipped away over time. I have found what your mom said to be true, over time you do learn to live with it. While it is true that sometimes an unexpected event will trigger a memory, and a deep sense of sadness, other times similar events will trigger a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude – at least that is what I have found. Thanks for finding the courage to write this.

anonymous Dec 12, 2012 10:59am

This is so beautiful, Liz. Love you girl xo