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Acadiana Lifestyle

Coping With Grief

12/05/2012 02:29PM ● By ALS Editor

Professional Advice For Finding Peace During The Holidays

Compiled by Cheryl Robichaux

The holiday season can bring forth a multitude of feelings such as joy, hope, excitement and wonder. For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, sometimes the holidays may not feel as bright as they should be.

Don’t allow sadness, loneliness and despair to take root in your heart. These three local experts (or three wise men, if you will) offer their take on dealing with grief and finding peace this Christmas.

Feed Your Soul

By Dr. Joseph Wilson, Ph.D.
Clinical Director/Owner,
Keys For Sober Living, LLC

For many people, the holidays represent a time to gather with friends and family, to slow down and reflect on the meaningful relationships in our lives. In our fast-paced culture, the holidays are one of the few occasions where we make time and intention to create traditions that celebrate our dearest loved ones, and open our hearts to strangers, neighbors and community.

For those of us who are grieving the loss of a loved one, holidays can seem empty, ‘not quite the same’ now that those who helped form our annual traditions are gone. The magic and openness of the season is replaced with sorrow, longing, and loneliness, all of which are amplified by the external songs, commercials, and decorations reminding you just how happy you are supposed to be.

Rather than succumb to having a blue Christmas or holiday season or using drugs and alcohol to cope with sorrow, it is important to both honor your feelings of grief and find new ways and traditions that connect you with others. Grief is a process that you cannot bypass. With compassion, connection, and time, you will feel better, and learn to love and live fully while keeping your lost loved one close to your heart.

Honoring Your Grief

How you honor your grief depends in large part on how recently you have lost a loved one, and how much you have already processed your feelings and emotions around your loss. If your loved one passed away recently, it is very important to be even more gentle with yourself so not to dive too quickly into the very natural feelings of sadness and despair that accompany grief. If a certain activity feels too scary or raw, that’s a good signal to find another option that is more comforting and gentle.

1. Have your local church, sangha, or spiritual community say a prayer for your loved one.

2. Light a candle for your loved one at home or at your house of worship.

3. Create an old-fashioned photo album of your favorite holiday memories with your loved one. If you can do this as a project with a mutual friend or family member, all the better. This way you can share stories and memories together over eggnog and some holiday music.

4. Start or join an online group on Facebook or other social media outlets around coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays. This will give you an opportunity to connect with folks who are hurting, just like you. When we realize we are not alone in our grief, the feelings of connection can open our hearts rather than close them in pain.

5. Create a new tradition of writing a message to your loved one and placing it in a special box and place. You can even make the box or decorate one just for them. Placing photos inside along with your messages creates a sacred space as a way of honoring your loved one with intention and love.

6. Draw, paint or take photographs that mirror how you feel. You don’t have to be a professional artist, just express whatever comes out, however it comes out. Share your work with a close friend.

7. Visit your loved one’s place of rest and read them a poem, prayer or simply share from your heart … bring another loved one if you can.

8. If the pain of your loss is too much to bear, sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is to simply take care of yourself. Return, even if your tendency is to retreat when feeling blue, to the activities that nurture you most. From a hot bath or massage to a spending time in nature, it is eternally important to know how to feed your soul, and surrender completely to receiving love and support in the simplest of forms.

Connect With Others

1. Volunteering is perhaps one of the best ways to join the human community, to help serve others who may be suffering in other ways than you, but hurt nonetheless. Selflessly giving your time and energy to others can expand your contracted feelings of pain to the larger community, reminding you that you not alone.

2. If you struggle with drugs or alcohol, connect with your sponsor or sober friends and local organizations to provide healthy, connective activities throughout the season.

3. Bake cookies or your favorite holiday treats and deliver them to your neighbors, friends, or even better, to strangers (folks who have to work on the holidays such as retail workers, gas stations, local businesses).

4. Join a local therapy or support group to help you process your feelings with the support of others.

5. Help an elderly neighbor or community member around their house. Their appreciation can open your heart in times of pain.

6. If you have children, host a holiday party for them. Invite your child’s friends and their parents even.

7. Create new traditions with the friends or loved ones that are still in your life. You can either continue old traditions that you shared with your deceased loved one, or you can create entirely new traditions. Make an outing to chop down a Christmas tree and decorate it together; go out for a movie and Chinese food; make a new holiday ornament each year together; or go caroling. The important thing is to find ways to be a part of the circle of life while keeping your loved one who has passed away close to you.

Celebrate Life

By Jimmy Reaux
Licensed Private Practice Counselor

Grieving the loss of a loved one is common during the holidays due to the temporal nature of being around and thinking of family that we don’t see regularly. That is to say that holidays are the times that we extend more thought to our loved ones in anticipation of getting together, buying gifts, remembering specifics about them such as what they like or dislike, and other factors relevant to their lives so that we can use the unique human gift of empathy, and show that we care for them.

All of these mental processes require a deeper recollective and emotional processing than we typically generate towards them on a regular basis. Relationally attached to these thoughts and memories are thoughts about the death of those that we love, because they were a significant part of those memories and our lives. This tends to bring sadness as we realize our longing for our deceased loved ones. 

Despite our sadness there are ways to keep ourselves from letting our thoughts and emotions keep us from feeling happiness, and more importantly from becoming overwhelmed with sadness, isolating, and turning to methods of escaping those feelings such as substance abuse.

It is most important that in these times we surround ourselves with those that love us and that we love. This is the very nature of being human, that we realize our need to be with others, to be social and accepted.

Second, talk about it! Discuss and remember the good, positive, funny and even quirky nature of those that we miss. These are the moments that our loved one has most impacted our lives.

Sharing these moments with family and friends promotes healing, and more importantly allows others the opportunity to feel good about themselves for helping in the healing process and strengthens our relationships with them.

Third, in honor of our loved ones who have died, begin a tradition or a method of honoring them in a manner which is positive such as an activity reminiscent of them, a toast embodying their words or favorite sayings, or simply the recognition of how they have impacted our lives for the better. Another way to honor our loved one would be to use nature. Planting a tree or flowers, or even visiting a place that we know was important to them is a great way of honoring them and promotes the celebration of their life, not the sorrow of their death.

Finally, for those that find themselves regularly impacted by sadness during the holidays to the point that thoughts and emotions interrupt our daily lives and our ability to focus, whether at work or carrying out daily activities, use the method of allowing ourselves to grieve and experience our sadness by setting aside a specific time to experience these emotions on a daily basis ... a time that is more convenient and at which you can give more of yourself. Hence, when confronted by overwhelming emotion, tell yourself that now is not the time and you will give yourself a chance to deal with these thoughts and emotions at that designated time. 

Ultimately, we cannot deny our need to grieve or experience any negative emotion without a consequence. For those that are more severely impacted by sadness or depression over the loss of a loved one or for any other reason, please get help from a qualified professional such as your doctor, or seek counseling services. After all, holidays are times when we should feel good about ourselves, and reflect upon and celebrate the relationships we have with others that have brought joy into our lives. 

Preparing For Holiday Cheer!

By Will Guidry, MSW/LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Work Practice

It’s unfortunate that many of us lately have begun to celebrate the “holidays”… being over. For many years now social psychologists have noted and studied the mental and emotional impact of the American “holiday” season. Certainly, there is some risk for mental and emotional conflict during this time of the year. Most mental and/or emotional illnesses are related in some way to stressors, leading many of us to proclaim that the holiday season is “crazy.” Indeed there is some “craziness” involved with the way that we have come to celebrate.

“Crazy” Number One: Time. From mid-November through “Super Bowl Sunday” (and some would argue Mardi Gras), time seems to compress and we all run short of time. With decisions about where to eat the holiday meals, who to visit, what parties to attend, etc. we often end up saying “Christmas is next week?” Throw in hunting season and football season and crunch … no time.

“Crazy” Number Two: Money. We seldom hear anyone proclaiming “I just have too much money this holiday season!” Many budget for holiday spending/buying, and most exceed this set limit, unfortunately. It’s not just gift-giving, but also a big increase in food-buying, advanced travel expense, clothes and utilities. Just about the time we justify all of this, we know that tax season is just ahead! Bummer.

“Crazy” Number Three: Traffic. “Wanna’ go shopping tomorrow?” “Wanna’ go to the mall?” Particularly on weekends, traffic becomes much heavier, congested and desperate! Otherwise docile citizens will become combative for that parking space. Foot traffic gets stressful, too during this “happy” time of the year. Don’t think that you’re gonna’ just run down to the Super Pharmacy for some headache medicine and “be back in a minute”… lines at registers and foot traffic in stores in general often gets hectic.

“Crazy” Number Four: Family. My family often jokes that we would fight more, we just don’t get together often enough! Holidays are a time that families merge. Any “bad blood” or unresolved conflicts frequently emerge during this “happy time.” Throw in that special family member who likes to drink too much, and we have a Jerry Springer set right there in our dining room. This is called carrying resentments.

• Sounds like fun, huh? Going into battle without a battle plan is called chaos. Make this holiday season your best yet…be prepared.

• Decide who you are going to buy for and how much you’re going to spend, and stick to it. Manage your money.

• Buy early to avoid the crunch and crisis of congested stores and high ways. Manage your travel.

• Decide which parties you are going to attend, where you are going to eat which meals, and in all ways, manage your time.

• If you know that there’s a “bomb waiting to go off” concerning family issues, avoid or at least be neutral. Manage your emotions.

• Refer to your scripture. At least for now the holidays are Judeo-Christian celebrations. Scripture will tell you what to do!

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