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Navigating grief and loss during the holiday season

Circle of Solace seeks to build community and provide resources for Roadrunners mourning friends, family members and colleagues.

By Elizabeth Parmelee, Ph.D.

December 16, 2021

Close up of hands on a table during a counseling session.Over the past two years, the Roadrunner community and many individual Roadrunners have mourned the deaths of family members and friends as well as several loved and respected employees.

An easy first step in caring for ourselves and supporting fellow Roadrunners who have experienced loss is to recognize that these winter months are among the hardest times of the year, and the holidays in particular can feel overwhelming. Just when we wish most fervently to enjoy a respite from work and time to relax and replenish, memories are called up by family traditions, empty places at the table gape at us and well-intended remarks or greetings send us into a tailspin.

One characteristic of Metropolitan State University of Denver, however, is the way Roadrunners individually and collectively strive to support one another. In that spirit, a group of employees has gathered to establish Circle of Solace.

Circle of Solace is an informal social group designed to help faculty and staff members who are grieving feel less alone, build community and share different cultural traditions surrounding death and mourning. While Circle of Solace is not a traditional support group, the gatherings will be informally moderated by faculty and staff members with expertise in grief, death and dying. Gatherings will give attendees an opportunity to help and support one another by sharing thoughts and perspectives.

Faculty and staff members are invited to join Circle of Solace by contacting Elizabeth Parmelee, Ph.D., associate vice president for Undergraduate Studies, at or Kelly (Yue) Huang, program manager and events coordinator, Office of International Studies, at

The group will host its first gathering in early 2022, so please stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, organizers and experts have shared the following tips for navigating grief and loss during the holiday season:

Be kind to yourself

In observing the holidays, don’t feel you “have to” do more than you are comfortable with. Allow time for feelings and let those feelings loose. “If you have 500 tears to cry, don’t stop at 250,” says David Kessler of Allow others to help and, in turn, reach out to colleagues and friends experiencing grief. Invite them for coffee, include them in holiday outings – and allow space for them to decline.

Have a Plan A and a Plan B

Another option is to prepare yourself with a Plan A and a Plan B. Go to that holiday party but have a plan for what you will do if you aren’t enjoying it so that leaving won’t feel terrible – it’s just moving on to a different choice. Having that Plan B is comforting and may mean that you don’t need it, Kessler says.

Create a new tradition or practice

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no right or wrong way to observe the holidays during times of loss. Considering journaling, lighting a candle or placing flowers on the table in honor of the person or people no longer there.

Support a friend or colleague

To support a person who is grieving, the best advice is to just be there for them. We tend to avoid people who have suffered a loss because we don’t know what to do and it feels uncomfortable, but simple words such as “I am sorry” or “I don’t have the right words, but please know I care” are often enough. And so is a simple hug or just being present. On the other hand, it is not helpful when we attempt to minimize the loss, suggest that people should restrain their feelings (or not to express grief in public) or tell a person to get back to living promptly and not disturb others with grief.

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Topics: Community

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