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Grief Takes No Holidays

by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

For those experiencing sorrow, whether through death, separation, divorce, illness, job loss or relocation, the glittering commercialism and unrelenting cheer of the holiday season can be stressful.

Facing family celebrations with an empty chair at the table can make unbearable grief so much worse, says Karen Silbert, MD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who suffered the loss of her five-monthold daughter.

Many people believe that anyone who has experienced great loss should be “over it” in six months or so. If only that were true. Emotions of the bereaved are raw and heal in their own time.

It can be difficult for those who are grieving to cope in social situations during the holidays, when tears would be out of place, Silbert says. At holiday time, many who are dealing with loss are often caught in a dilemma between the need to grieve and the pressure to “get into the spirit” of the season.

But holidays can stimulate memories and a renewed wave of pain, which feels even more pronounced. And it’s not only holidays that may trigger deep feelings of new or renewed grief. Birthdays, anniversaries

and other special occasions present a challenge for many, even after a number of years have passed.

While the experience of grief may ebb and flow, we should not expect it to altogether disappear, say grief counselors and experts. While it’s normal to hurt during the holidays. it’s also possible for the human heart to hope and heal.

Tending Grief

Here are some suggestions from grief expert Dr. Judith Johnson, author, educator, life coach and interfaith minister, to help the bereaved maintain inner balance during the holidays.

1. Reach out. Contact friends, family, support agencies, and anyone who can give you comfort during this difficult time.

2. However, be deeply honest about what you need. Honor what you need to do and not do through the holidays or other significant occasions. Be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself about what is true for you.

3. Allow all your feelings. Grief expresses in many ways. Give yourself permission to feel lethargic, grumpy or out of sorts. Stay focused on what is happening inside you and tend to yourself as you would anyone else you love deeply.

4. Anticipate and plan ahead. “Don’t wait for others to make plans for you that may or may not have anything at all to do with what you really need,” Dr. Johnson said. “Face your truth and communicate what you need.”

5. Make room for your grief or sadness. “Grief is a very private matter and the holidays have a way of magnifying it,” Dr. Johnson counsels. “Welcome your grief. Your sadness and tears are expressions of the healing process.” Be open to your grief and trust that it is healing.

Many people believe that anyone who has experienced great loss should be “over it” in six months or so. If only that were true. Emotions of the bereaved are raw and heal in their own time.

It can be difficult for those who are grieving to cope in social situations during the holidays, when tears would be out of place, Silbert says. At holiday time, many who are dealing with loss are often caught in a dilemma between the need to grieve and the pressure to “get into the spirit” of the season.

But holidays can stimulate memories and a renewed wave of pain, which feels even more pronounced. And it’s not only holidays that may trigger deep feelings of new or renewed grief. Birthdays, anniversaries

and other special occasions present a challenge for many, even after a number of years have passed.

While the experience of grief may ebb and flow, we should not expect it to altogether disappear, say grief counselors and experts. While it’s normal to hurt during the holidays. it’s also possible for the human heart to hope and heal.

Tending Grief

Here are some suggestions from grief expert Dr. Judith Johnson, author, educator, life coach and interfaith minister, to help the bereaved maintain inner balance during the holidays.

1. Reach out. Contact friends, family, support agencies, and anyone who can give you comfort during this difficult time.

2. However, be deeply honest about what you need. Honor what you need to do and not do through the holidays or other significant occasions. Be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself about what is true for you.

3. Allow all your feelings. Grief expresses in many ways. Give yourself permission to feel lethargic, grumpy or out of sorts. Stay focused on what is happening inside you and tend to yourself as you would anyone else you love deeply.

4. Anticipate and plan ahead. “Don’t wait for others to make plans for you that may or may not have anything at all to do with what you really need,” Dr. Johnson said. “Face your truth and communicate what you need.”

5. Make room for your grief or sadness. “Grief is a very private matter and the holidays have a way of magnifying it,” Dr. Johnson counsels. “Welcome your grief. Your sadness and tears are expressions of the healing process.” Be open to your grief and trust that it is healing.

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Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

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