Fox Valley Hands of Hope offers holiday grief support

Grief counselor Marcia Dingman: ‘Have yourself the holiday you need, not the Hallmark holiday’

While the Christmas season may be happy and joyful for a lot of people, this can be a really hard time of year for people who at struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, and substance abuse.

GENEVA – Try as they might, not every one can be jolly or joyful at Christmas, as many face holiday blues following the death of a loved one.

As spokeswoman Cindy Bravos of Fox Valley Hands of Hope explains, “Grief is not linear and it comes in waves.”

Fox Valley Hands of Hope, 200 Whitfield Drive, Geneva, is hosting Hope for the Holidays sessions in-person, on zoom and in Spanish to assist the grieving process through the season.

“If you’ve had that loss, that void is greater at the holidays,” Bravos said. “It’s a reminder of traditions or activities you might have shared with that loved one who is no longer with you.”

The in-person sessions are from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 6 and the Zoom session is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7.

The sessions are free but registration is required through via email at or via a QR code on the website,

The first Spanish session will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Family Service Association of Greater Elgin, 1752 Capital St., Suite 100, Elgin.

The second Spanish session will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 19 at INC Mental Health Alliance, 400 Mercy Lane, Aurora.

The sessions in Spanish are also free but require registration via email at or by calling 630-232-2233 ext. 1215.

This year, Hands of Hope heard from a client who met one-on-one with a clinician and participated in Pathways, an adult grief group, Bravos said.

“She wrote that the support she received ‘was and is a blessing as I continue to pursue happiness, direction, and hope in life without my dear husband by my side. Blessings to you all,’” Bravos said.

“It’s bittersweet because you do have those memories,” Bravos said. “But you also need to learn to navigate a new life and that’s what Fox Valley Hands of Hope provides – is that opportunity for people to figure out a new life.”

The agency also encourages people to flip the switch on common but unhelpful things said to those in grief, such as, “They’re in a better place,” or “It’s part of God’s plan.”

“Instead of saying that, flip the switch and say, ‘I’ll listen if you want to talk about the person who died. I want to support you,’” Bravos said.

Volunteer grief counselor Marcia Dingman of St. Charles works with clients during the holiday sessions.

“As always our support groups are there to provide a safe atmosphere for sharing painful issues surrounding loss,” Dingman said. “That is purpose of all our groups. Around holidays, we realize that it’s extra painful. And we want to help recreate that new life without that loved one and the pressure there is to make it jolly holly. … We also want them to embrace their loved ones and family members, who are all grieving.”

In the group setting, Dingman said participants talk about the pressures and expectations during the holidays and she assists with tips to help navigate those feelings.

“They need to chose what brings the comfort and joy and to communicate that to family members,” Dingman said. “All are grieving in their own way.”

Among the suggestions are to create a gratitude box of holiday memories.

Another is to create new traditions – such as not requiring a big Christmas tree, but choosing something smaller. And instead of a large traditional holiday meal, maybe ordering a dinner to be delivered.

“My tagline is, ‘Have yourself the holiday you need, not the Hallmark holiday,’” Dingman said.

Another aspect of holiday grief stress are other losses – such as the loss of a job or of health, she said.

“It’s looking at all of those secondary losses and how do we adopt and embrace changes as what is important in the here and now,” Dingman said. “It’s accepting reality. You can’t accept life until you accept death. It’s a journey for us.”