Grief can make holiday difficult with added pressure

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 21, 2013 at 9:21 PM

It’s the holidays, the season of good cheer, glad tidings, merriment, home, family, tradition, peace, hope, joy and love. Good grief, that’s a lot of pressure.

And what if it’s not joyous? What if someone or some thing we treasure is missing, and without them our hearts sink at Christmas?

Licensed Professional Counselor Brian Scott says the first thing to do is acknowledge the holidays can be a very difficult time for someone who is grieving a loss.

“Especially if it’s a first Christmas after a loss and especially if the loss is a death, it’s important to take special care of ourselves” and “make room for the idea that it will be difficult,” he said.

“Often people put on the strong face and deny ‘I’m not doing well,’ ” Scott said, adding that telling ourselves “It doesn’t really matter, this is Christmas and I’m going to make it fun for friends and family” can actually increase the grief’s intensity.

“Like water behind a dam, the pressure builds up,” Scott said. His advice is to “grieve well.”

“People who grieve well go on to love well and live well. Make the decision to mourn. Mourning is taking what’s missing and bringing it out. Talk about it. Acknowledge it. ... Provide an avenue for healing, a pathway for it to go.”

While being mindful to “take the cue” when our talk is driving our friends and families crazy, Scott said, “It’s great to share memories.”

“Focus less on the death and more on the life of the person who died, what made them unforgettable, the relationships and involvements that were important to them, things you shared with that person, favorite memories.”

Also important, Scott said, is not being “afraid to do the holidays differently.”

“Things are different and a slight modification of tradition can acknowledge that change and at the same time preserve continuity with the past. Acknowledge the reality of what exists and, especially at Christmas, ask for help.

“A lot of Christmas is about tradition. If the tradition was something that person took care of, ask others to help do it, or just don’t do it,” Scott said. The world will not end if there’s no green bean casserole.

“Talk over your plans with everybody,” Scott said. “Respect their choices and needs. And compromise when necessary.”

Scott recommends making new traditions. “Consider doing something to help someone else, especially if it involves something or some organization that was important to that person.”

When taking part in activities you enjoyed together, “there is still a tie to the past but it’s modified.”

Scott also notes it’s not just death we grieve.

At a recent seminar, he met a woman who to was caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease who no longer remembers her. She told him, “I’m grieving the loss of my mother and she is still alive.”

“Loss is loss,” he said. Divorce, broken relationships, lost hopes and dreams, missed opportunities. “Grieving can be a lot of things.”

For Christians, Scott said Christmas represents the birth of the savior. For non-Christians, there are other spiritual concepts to the holiday.

“Christmas can be something new, a new hope and new dream. Let Christmas be a reminder that there are new hopes are on the horizon.

“Sometimes it feels like everybody else is great and prefect. They’re not, Everybody struggles with something. And at the holidays, we all need an extra dose of goodwill and glad tidings.”

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