Advice on Dealing with Mesothelioma Grief During the Holidays

Children gather with grandmother

The songs on the radio tell you “’Tis the Season to be Jolly,” and it may seem like everyone you see is beaming with joy.

But for people with mesothelioma and their families, Christmas may seem like the least wonderful time of the year. Many families are forced to consider this may be their last holiday season with a loved one. Others are marking their first Christmas with an empty chair at the family table.

I recently spoke with Monte Drenner, a licensed mental health counselor in Orlando and a friend of mine. He offered some encouragement to all of you.

Interview with Drenner

Question: Have you counseled individuals or families dealing with cancer? Do you have any wisdom to pass along to the readers of Asbestos.com?

A: Not only do we counsel families with cancer, but we have lost family members to cancer. So we understand firsthand the impact that cancer can have on a family. What helped us and what we counsel others to do is to get in touch with the emotions about the diagnosis, the disease process and the ultimate passing of a loved one. For us, some of what we experienced was shock, denial, fear, anger and sadness.

The next step is to learn how to feel all these emotions in a healthy way. The worst thing someone can do is to deny they have feelings about the diagnosis or to suppress their emotions. Feelings are designed to come out and they will express themselves eventually. Being in touch with your emotions and expressing them will help prevent a difficult situation like receiving a diagnosis of cancer become even more difficult.

The wisdom to pass on is that whatever you feel is OK, give yourself permission to feel your emotions, but don’t stay stuck in them. The goal is to work through them.

Q: Many of our readers are saying goodbye to a loved one with mesothelioma. This may be their last Christmas together. How can they make sure this Christmas is one to remember?

A: First, understand that you will always remember your loved one’s last Christmas. The goal is to make these memories as pleasant as possible. During the time together, focus on the fact that you still have your loved one with you rather than the anticipated loss. Say and express what you need to say while they are still with you.

Too many people regret they did not make amends, resolve a conflict or express their love and gratitude for that person. You can do positive things like take lots of pictures, try to enjoy each other as much as possible, go through old pictures and recount Christmases past. The most important thing is to enjoy the moments together.

Q: Other readers are facing their first Christmas without a loved one. During grief, it can seem that every Christmas carol stings your heart just a little deeper, and every cheery greeting is a reminder of what was lost. What encouragement do you have for them as the holidays are in full swing?

A: Anticipate difficult and challenging emotions during the holidays. The Bible says there is a time to grieve. Don’t feel pressure to “be jolly.” The best thing to do is to be real. However, if you only focus on the loss during the season, you will miss out on special times with people still here.

Some people feel guilty for having fun over the holidays after a family member passes. Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself in spite of your loss.

Q: For those who are marking Christmas with a hole in their heart, how can they incorporate their loved one’s memory into the holiday season? Maybe lighting a candle or writing a letter to their loved one?

A: There are several ways to honor the lost loved one. You might consider participating in their favorite holiday traditions like cooking, decorations, ornaments — all can help you stay connected to them. It will keep their memory alive and also provide new positive memories. The deceased would probably want the family to start new traditions without them and to enjoy the season.

Q: Any additional thoughts for our readers this Christmas season?

A: If you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck, then get some professional help, or join a support group. You could also volunteer somewhere. But realize you are in a season of life and you will get through the grief. You will always miss them, but the intensity of the loss and grief will lessen. It has been said we hurt deeply because we loved deeply. You can take comfort in that part of you as you continue life in a new way.

Takeaways for You and Your Loved Ones

I’m so grateful that Drenner took the time to share with us this holiday season. I’m praying this Christmas is one to remember for you.

Whether you’re saying goodbye to a loved one — or remembering someone who is no longer with us — may the season bring peace to each one of you.

It’s good to remember that you are not alone in your pain. Your family and other loved ones are there to help in your time of need.

Monte Drenner has more than 24 years of counseling experience helping families, couples and individuals. His counseling practice is based in Orlando, but he also offers counseling via phone or Skype.


Jennifer Mia has been writing and editing for more than 15 years. She has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications. When she was in college, she lost a brother to cancer, and now she writes blogs for The Mesothelioma Center. Jennifer hopes that her writing brings some small amount of hope and healing to the many men and women who are forced to deal with this horrible cancer.

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