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Holiday grief: One local family's story of loss and recovery

Dealing with holiday grief when losing a loved one
Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 06:00:13-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The holidays are a time to celebrate with your loved ones, but it can be a particularly tough time for those who recently lost someone close to them. In fact, COVID-19 is driving holiday grief up, as families deal with loss related to the virus.

Not many people can say they married their college sweetheart, but Adam Starr from Grand Rapids did after meeting the love of his life Mary in school.

“We got married and had kids and...had a really normal life," he said.

Mary and Adam had three children - Lily, Ian and Max. In December of 2010, Mary was preparing for a church singing recital with Lily, getting last minute gifts ready for the family when she suddenly fell ill.

“Out of the blue, in the winter of 2010...Mary became violently ill with what we thought was a flu," Adam said.

What they though was the flu turned out to be a serious blood infection.

“And very rapidly we went from the emergency room to the ICU, to a ventilator to surgery. 72 hours later unfortunately, they weren't able to save her life," Adam said. "She passed away on the morning of Christmas Eve.”

Within three days Mary went from being perfectly healthy to passing away. Adam lost his wife, the kids lost their mother all within three days. Christmas morning was the very next day.

“The first Mother's Day, the first Christmas, their first birthdays, any little event that we normally did as a family was really, really raw and hard. Especially during that first year," Adam said.

Joy became something that was hard to find around the holidays for the Starr family.

“I've always liked Christmas, but it's sometimes just hard to focus on being happy when that's there also," Lily Starr said.

Adam realized his family needed help grieving and recovering from the loss. That's when he reached out to Ele's Place, a donor-funded grieving support center free to the community.

“If you just experienced a death that can be primarily, especially difficult, because you're sad, you're hurting, you're grieving and everyone else is happy," Ele’s Place West Michigan Director Tammy Squire said.

Squire says holiday grief is not uncommon and is in fact more prevalent than ever before.

“We've seen definitely an uptick for the need for grief support in our community the past couple of years with the pandemic," Squire said.

Squire says there has been a 20 percent uptick in people needing their services since COVID-19. She says there is no shame in feeling sad around the holidays, but finding something that brings you peace can help. For the Starr family, that something is watching old videos and looking at photos of Mary every Christmas Eve.

“I like focusing on the good memories. Just remembering all the good times," Lily said.

Squire says the community can also help those who are struggling with gestures big and small.

“Drop off some soup, drop off a card, offer to take the kids for a little bit. Anything that you think would be a source of comfort," she said.

Adam found Ele's place so helpful that he decided to get involved with their leadership and helps with their community events. For more information on Ele's Place you can visit their website or call 616-301-1605.