How to support someone who is grieving during the holidays

Amber Goodwyn is preparing for her first "blue Christmas."

Counsellor says listening is one of the best ways to help

Blue Christmas services are designed to help people who are experiencing loss, loneliness and sadness over the holidays. (Chad Sparkes)

Amber Goodwyn is preparing for her first "blue Christmas." 

The Regina musician's mother Phyllis passed away in March after having undetected Stage 4 cancer. Sometimes when she has a good day or something interesting happens, she still thinks about telling her mom, only to remember she's gone.

"I'm still really new in my grief," Goodwyn said. 

Amber Goodwyn has an area in her home set up to remember her mother. (Submitted by Amber Goodwyn )

She's anticipating some "blue days" or "blue afternoons" and said it's good to process how she feels. 

"It's such a relief to allow yourself to be sad or to be given that time and space to be sad. It never feels good to try to put it aside," she said. 

Lisa Grieg, an intake counsellor with Student Affairs and Outreach at the University of Saskatchewan, said the main way to support someone in grieving is to listen.

"Trust that the grievers are the experts in their journey," Grieg said. "They're going to lead us through their journey and let us know how we can best support them."

Grieg said people can make common mistakes by comparing or minimizing a person's grief.

"Grief is not meant to be compared," she said. "When someone has the courage to finally share how they're feeling or their grief, that's not an invitation to tell about your mother's cousin's sister's aunt died."

"I think we need to be careful not to minimize that loss."

Amber Goodwyn and her mother Phyllis pose for a photograph shortly after Goodwyn's daughter Fiona was born. (Submitted by Amber Goodwyn)

Goodwyn said she is still relishing and enjoying her four-year-old daughter's excitement during Christmas and thinking of starting a new tradition to honour and remember her mother.

An area in her home is dedicated to her mother's memory, adorned with photographs, mementos and candles.

"I think it's important for people to be brave and ask people who are grieving how they're doing and then also reflect on the person who has died," she said. "Because sometimes you feel a bit invisible in your grief."

Blue Christmas Service

Jim Balfour, a minister at Broadway United Church, has been holding Blue Christmas services for 25 years. He says many people come when they're not feeling festive.

Balfour said he got the idea to begin the services locally after several funerals happened in one year. He said some churchgoers looked like they did not want to celebrate. He found resources from a church in South Carolina that held Blue Christmas services and has been holding them since. 

Jim Balfour said he has been holding Blue Christmas services for 25 years and says he encourages people through an old Persian proverb: “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.” (Submitted by Jim Balfour)

"I think for people that go to something like Blue Christmas it's an affirmation that they are not alone in the universe. There are other people that are feeling the same thing. That are struggling in their own way," Balfour said. 

The Broadway United Church Blue Christmas service is on Dec. 20, 2018. 

"You're not alone," he said. "We can find a way through the darkness together." 

About the Author

Heidi Atter


Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Regina. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email

With files from Blue Sky and Saskatchewan Weekend


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