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Coping with loss through the holiday season

November 27, 2010

For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can become much like running a marathon. With Thanksgiving behind them, they have reached the first leg of the race. However, looming in the distance is the long road of the race titled: "It's a Wonderful Life."

This and other Christmas specials are warm and fuzzy to some, but they - and the shopping and expectations that come with the holidays - can cause pain to the grieving. For those who are experiencing illness, grief or the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a time of sadness, pain, anger or dread.

Surveying many sites online, I have found many strategies and added some of my own that will enable you to cope with the holidays during this stressful time of year:

Offer Yourself Some Grace

The best thing you can do this holiday season is be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is your feeling. Don't fall prey to the belief that you have to feel a certain way or do certain things for your holiday to be "normal." If you feel sad, allow the tears to come; if you feel angry, allow yourself to vent some steam.

Be Kind to Yourself

Get the rest and nourishment you need. Don't take on any more than you can handle. If you need to be alone, honor that. If you crave the company and affection of others, seek it out. Probably you will need both the fellowship of others and some alone time.

Ask for and Accept Help

The holiday season is no time to feign strength and independence. You will need the help and support of others to get through. Don't feel as though you are a burden. People get immense satisfaction and joy from helping those they care about.

In times of need, other people desire to help but often don't know how. This is the time for you to speak up and make your needs known. If you need someone to help you with meals, shopping or decorating, tell them so. They will be delighted to feel like they are helping you in some way.

The same holds true for your emotional needs. Friends and family may feel uncomfortable when it comes to talking about your grief. They may think that you don't want to talk about it and don't want to remind you of your pain. Again, you will have to direct them in the best way to help you. If you want to talk about what you're going through or just want a shoulder to cry on, let your loved ones know.

Find Support

Sharing your feelings is the best way to get through them. You need people you can talk to. Friends and relatives can be a great support to us during times of grief, but they are sometimes full of their own grief or so immersed in the business of the holidays that they cannot be a support to you. I am holding support groups for caregivers and the bereaved this coming month for that very reason. Support group members often make friends that end up being a source of support for years to come. Sometimes the difference in enduring the holidays and enjoying them is just a little bit of counseling ... someone to just lend an ear or offer a few suggestions. Support helps us redefine our normal.

Make a Difference

Most of us like to help others during the holiday season. Taking on an angel tree child to buy gifts, dropping our change in the charity basket, or donating to our favorite organization can help us feel like we are contributing to a greater good. Helping others in times of grief can help take the focus off yourself and your pain. Volunteering at a nursing home, hospital, children's shelter or soup kitchen can be cathartic in times of pain. Even helping a friend or family member in need can be healing.

Stop the Comparisons

It's easy to watch other families and compare them to your own. Seeing other families together and enjoying the festivities may make you feel deprived. Keep in mind that the holidays are stressful for most families and are rarely the magical gatherings depicted in greeting cards or Norman Rockwell paintings. Try to embrace what you have rather than compare it to what you think others have.

Remember That You Will Survive

As hard as it is for you right now, you will survive. You will make it through the holidays in one piece. It may be the most difficult season in your time of grief, but it will pass. And when it does, you will come out on the other side stronger than before.

You don't have to enjoy the holidays. You don't even have to go through the motions pretending to enjoy the festivities. But, it's also just fine to have a good time in spite of your grief. If happiness slips through your window of grief, allow it to happen and enjoy it. You won't be doing your loved one an injustice by feeling joyous. The best gift you can give anyone you love, even someone you have lost, is being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest.

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom and a counselor and licensed chaplain at Cornerstone Christian Counseling Center. Contact: or or call: 304-637-7018.)



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