By Olivia Quesada,
One Christmas in 2009 ruined many to come for Chloe Anderson. As a sophomore in high school, she experienced true hardship after losing her mother that Christmas Day during a family dinner party.
The day already started off differently. Anderson’s mother sat upstairs in her bed on hospice with stomach and brain cancer. Her father cooked pancakes as he always did. Anderson and her brother took their presents upstairs to open them with her. They tried to make the day as close as it could be to a normal Christmas, but they couldn’t shake the awful, negative feeling.
That evening, as the Andersons sat down for dinner with their 20 other family members, Anderson’s father pulled her aside to tell her that her mother had passed away. Anderson was shocked. She took a minute and then went into the room with her mother on the bed and her grandmother and uncle sitting in the room. Anderson began to cry after letting the thought sink in that her father had lost his wife, her grandmother had lost her daughter, her uncle had lost his sister and she had lost her mother.
This year, almost seven years after the death of her mother, Anderson became the host of a very different holiday gathering through the help of an organization called The Dinner Party. The Dinner Party is an organization that connects people in communities who have experienced significant loss to share their experience with grief and a meal together.
Anderson, with a friend who cohosts the dinner party with her, talks for hours with people she has just met about the one thing they all have in common: loss. Anderson said that there’s comfort in talking with other people who can relate to the little details and experiences that come with loss.
Stories just like Anderson’s are happening all around the country every day. Millions of children and teens have lost loved ones. A study conducted by Comfort Zone Camp, a nonprofit bereavement camp for children ages seven to 17, said that one in nine Americans experience the loss of a parent by the age of 20.
A study done by the New York Life Foundation and the National Alliance for Grieving Children said that 60 percent of grieving children and teens feel that most people don’t understand what it’s like to lose a family member at a young age.
Psychologist Loriene Honda believes that it is extremely important for people who have lost a loved one to reach out for support from people like a relative who experienced the loss, a supportive friend or a grief expert such as a therapist.
“Even though it may not feel like someone else could 100 percent understand what you are going through, you will be reminded that you are not alone,” Honda said.
When Anderson’s mother died, her father and brother weren’t open to talking about the loss of their mother. However, Anderson was able to find help in confiding with her close friends. But this did not prevent next year’s Christmas from being difficult.
Bereavement specialist David Deerfeeder confirms that grieving can be more difficult for some people during the holidays.
“The awareness of the loss becomes more acute [during the holidays],” Deerfeeder said.
Honda said that even though grieving is a difficult time it is okay to focus on and nurture yourself through moments of fun, connection and hopefulness.
Don Lewis, the bereavement support group coordinator at the UC Davis Hospice program, said that a lot of people will give wrong or unhelpful advice.
“Listen to your gut,” Lewis said. “If something doesn’t sound right to you, pay attention to that.”
Although the night she lost her mother was life-changing for her, Anderson believes she is an infinitely stronger person because of it.
“[There is] no road map to grief […] No one can tell you if you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing,” Anderson said.