Following the death of her younger son, Marc, age 19, in 1992, Susan Van Vleck was looking for meaning. Marc’s death motivated Susan to enter and graduate with honors from Kennesaw State University receiving a degree in Sociology and Human Services. She has attended several American Academy of Bereavement seminars. Susan has been a facilitator for Good Grief; a six-week program based on Granger Westberg’s book Good Grief and was a Promina Northwest Hospice Volunteer in Marietta, GA for two years. She is a National Board Member for The Compassionate Friends. Susan knows it isn’t the life you planed, but it is the life you have. Please join us for a look at your life and your future.

Here are some tips Susan emailed us before today’s show.


I think it is important to reiterate that the anticipation leading UP TO the actual day is worse that the day itself.


Sit down with family and decide what you want to do for the holiday and what each family member can handle comfortably.

Are they up to handling the responsibility of the family dinner or ask someone else to take over this task or order a holiday dinner?

Whether to stay home or go away for the holidays?

Whether or not to talk openly about their loved one?

How are we going to include and remember our loved one that day i.e. light a 24-hour candle, take turns sharing a special memory around the holiday meal, one mother buys a poinsettia for her home as a living memorial to her son during the Holiday season –

It is important to remember that all thoughts and feelings are normal and should be respected.

Communication is a big part of relationships – we must communicate our wishes b/c try as they might our friends & family cannot read our minds.

My ritual is to first decorate Marc’s grave before I can begin mailing our cards or decorating at home.


It is okay to change the regular tradition – there is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays~

If you have always opened gifts Christmas Day – you might want to open them Christmas Eve

Attend Christmas services at a different time or even at a different church

Let the children take over decorating the tree or invite friends in to help

Have dinner at a different time


Get plenty of rest

Eat nutritious food

Drink lots of water

Take a walk around the block to get some fresh air

Spend some quiet time alone to write in a journal, listen to some nice music not necessarily Christmas music if that is upsetting.

Allow yourself TEARS and also give yourself permission to laugh if it happens – both laughter and tears are healing

Decorating the Christmas Tree

I am sorry you are having a hard time this year, decorating the Christmas tree carries a lot of emotion. Ken said he dreaded looking at one for three weeks, but once it was up I think he’s OK with it. I can’t bear to put up the regular ornaments, so I did a “dark red” theme this year. Pier 1 had beautiful bejeweled red butterflies (they didn’t have white) which in my mind indicates Justin is among us. In every family – we all have our ‘roles’ so to speak. Frank would string the lights, David would line out the Christmas music to be played and I would open and arrange the boxes of ornaments. David & Marc have their own box of ornaments; every year I would make a different ornament for them and then the ornaments that made in grade school. Marc would always jump right in and start decorating the tree. He really enjoyed putting on the ornaments and talking about the history of each one. It breaks my heart each and every year that he is not here. Also it is very hard to hang Marc’s ornaments, but I do it through tears b/c they should be on the tree, too.

Christmas Cards

The 1st Christmas after Marc died we mailed our Christmas Cards out the day after Thanksgiving asking family and friends to write down a special time they shared with Marc and mail it to us in their Christmas card. We also asked people who stopped by the house prior to the holidays to do the same thing providing pen and paper then place their memory in Marc’s stocking hanging on the fireplace. Christmas morning the 3 of us sat on the floor near the Christmas tree taking turns reading these wonderful stories that our friends and family were so generous to provide that year. We laughed and cried, but it was wonderful experiencing the essence of Marc around us that first Christmas.

How to sign Christmas cards? I could not leave out Marc’s name so I alternate each year between writing Marc’s name and under his name in parenthesis “in spirit” and stamp with a blue angel or use an angel punch. Both of them I got at a craft store like Michaels or JoAnn’s.


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