SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Many will be gathering around the table this week to celebrate and be with company, but what many might not realize is the grief and stress family and friends are struggling with around the holidays.

Mental health professionals at Burrell Behavioral Health in Springfield say it continues to serve patients that are dealing with pandemic-related stressors.

Dr. Wanda Holloway with Burrell says many of her clients feel the need to have a “perfect” holiday this year after plans were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

While folks balance the stress that comes along with planning a family gathering, buying gifts, or traveling, Dr. Holloway says others will be challenged with grief from spending their first Christmas without a loved one.

Dr. Holloway says those who are still grieving from losing a relative are often worried about whether to bring up the loss of a relative for fear it will ruin the holiday gathering.

“If there’s a loss and they are grieving that loss I’ll have them do a Christmas tree that then they can bring an ornament and talk about their loved one that is deceased,” says Dr. Holloway. “That allows them to bring backstories that are wonderful and make everyone either laugh or smile and then it’s something that’s a lot more pleasant to talk about versus a lot of the tears and the grief that comes along with that loss.”

Dr. Holloway encourages families to find a fun activity to do together that will spark joy, not grief when reminiscing or speaking out lost relatives.

“Another way is to incorporate their favorite foods, ‘My aunt loved this or my father loved this,’ or their favorite food or a favorite song,” she adds.

She adds that it is important to plan the activities ahead of time, so you are met with uncomfortable moments that could lead to tears or heartache.

“You know, their memory lives on in everyone else’s stories. That is such a special way of honoring them or honoring each other because we don’t want to leave them out, and if we’ve got a plan all ready to put them in, then there’s not that awkwardness of should we or should we not talk about them.”

She also recommends that those who may feel lonely around the holidays not pass over them but still find a way to celebrate in their own way, even if it means gathering around pets or connecting with friends and family virtually.