How to deal with grief during the holidays

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How to deal with grief during the holidays

By AMY COYNE BREDESON
abredeson@islandpacket.com
Published Sunday, December 23, 2012   |  492 Words  |  

It's the most wonderful time of the year, right? Well, not for everyone.

Consider the woman who will spend her first Christmas in 50 years without her husband, or the father who lost his job and cannot afford presents for his family. Think about the parents who lost their children in the Connecticut school shooting or the millions of Americans who are grieving that tragedy.

The holidays can be a rough time for anyone who has suffered a loss. Holiday traditions bring back memories and can make things worse. There are expectations of joy and merriment -- and those aren't always realistic when someone is mourning.

"For someone who's recently lost a loved one, they might not feel like 'Everything around me is all cheery and bright,' " Hospice Care of America music therapist and volunteer coordinator Jeannelle Benek said. "So it feels a little inauthentic. And that is normal."

But Benek said there are ways to combat the depression that soms comes with the holidays.

First, she recommends plenty of rest, exercise and fluids. Grief is processed through the whole body, and it can affect the way people eat, sleep and feel physically, Benek said.

Other ways to fight despair include: telling your story over and over again, allowing yourself enough time to heal, setting aside time to feel what you need to feel and taking extra time to make decisions. During the holidays, in particular, Benek suggests writing a letter to a loved one who has died or buying a gift for yourself that your loved one would've bought for you. She also encourages people to make new traditions if the old ones are too painful.

Benek said it's important not to isolate yourself. She said she recently saw a news clip of people gathered with candles singing "Silent Night" after the Connecticut shooting.

"There's a lot of healing in just coming together there and just experiencing that pain and loss together," Benek said. "There's nothing you can do to change what happened, but you can come together and comfort one another."

Benek leads periodic Hospice support groups and workshops to help people through their grief. She uses art and music to help participants process their grief, express themselves and heal. The groups are free and open to anyone in the community who has suffered a loss.

"We, as a nation, are mourning this holiday beyond those who have lost someone near and dear," Benek said. "This has cut to the heart of our nation. I think we can all benefit from a little support and love and taking time to remember, and remembering even symbolically the loss that our nation has had."

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