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Happy
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Traditions undone:  Grieving the loss of a loved one during the holidays

By Alex Carrier

Losing a loved one is never easy. Grief is inevitable as is the sadness at their absence. When that loss seems destined to make celebrating the holiday season unthinkable, there are some strategies to help family and friends remember the one they miss while savoring the ones they have with them still.

Each of us expresses grief in our own way. Perhaps the hardest times are the firsts: the first holiday without the loved one, the first trip, even the first meal.

Holidays can be incredibly difficult because of family traditions. Here are some helpful suggestions gathered from medical experts and counselors.

Decide how much you can handle. Be honest with yourself and let your family and friends know your wishes. Families should discuss this and recognize each family member may have a different comfort threshold. Respect each other’s needs and wishes.

Surround yourself with caring family and friends. There is no right thing to say or do but knowing you care about each other can help in healing.

Consider changing family traditions or creating new ones. It doesn’t have to be permanent but it may help. Try a different location for the celebration or change table seating. If the absence of the loved one is the only change, it may become the focus of attention.

You do not need to exclude memories of your loved one from the holidays. Not speaking of the person can be more disquieting than sharing the times you loved. You can acknowledge your loss but celebrating your loved ones’ life can enrich your family time together.

Volunteer. It is clichéd but we often feel less sad about our own situation when we reach out to help others. If you can volunteer as a family, you can create new memories to share.

Don’t feel guilty about the joy you experience in a moment or situation. You can be sad about one thing while still finding happiness in other parts of your life.

Explore faith. Studies show that people who have a solid faith do better when dealing with all stress and especially the loss of a loved one.

Take care of yourself physically. Get plenty of rest. Eat nutritious meals and exercise. Reduce your stress as much as possible.

Be honest with yourself and ask your friends to be honest with you if you or they think your grief has turned into a medical situation. Being sad is normal but the stress of losing a loved one can trigger actual physiological reactions that can create health problems.

If you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope, or feel someone you love is unable to cope with the loss, get help. Grief is an inevitable part of life and is a process unique to each individual. When that process becomes harmful, it is reasonable and responsible to seek help for yourself or others.

You can start by contacting a faith-based organization, a crisis hotline if the situation is eminently serious, support groups, your local mental health association or your physician.

Some places you may find help:

GriefShare – an on-line support and counseling group

Ministry Health Care’s Health Connection article on Holiday Grief

 

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