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December 23, 2012

READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 23, 2012

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Dealing with grief during a season of celebration

The holiday season is a time of collective festivity. We gather with family, friends, co-workers and colleagues in a spirit of good tidings and cheer. The seasonal expectation for celebration is widespread and deeply engrained in our culture.

For many who are grieving, however, this expectation can be stressful and painful. Whether our loss is the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, unemployment or even unfulfilled dreams, the holiday season can usher in feelings of sadness, depression and loneliness. Though we did not have a choice in what led to our grief, we do have a choice in how we respond. Regardless of our family, cultural or religious traditions, there are some helpful ways we can acknowledge our loss and navigate our way through the holiday festivities.

The first rule of thumb is to be gentle and patient with ourselves and those who love us. Well-meaning friends and family want to provide us with comfort and companionship. Despite their good intentions, we may not feel much like being social or jovial. In these instances, it is important to remember that the need for alone time is normal.

It is also helpful to remember that we have the power of choice. We can choose the activities that we feel comfortable with and decline the ones we don’t. We can set time limits that feel reasonable to us. We can be compassionate with ourselves. We can ask for what we need.

These insights can be helpful reminders to be gentle with ourselves especially when we are socially compelled to put on our “holiday best.” Feelings of grief and happiness are not mutually exclusive. We may experience a gamut of emotions from deep sadness to profound joy. We may feel simultaneously numb, angry and sad. We may not feel anything at all. These emotional fluctuations are normal and expected. The key is to be gentle with ourselves wherever we are and do our best to suspend self- judgment.

In terms of commemorating our loss, we may choose to ritualize our loss in a way that has personal significance such as making an ornament for our Christmas tree, lighting a candle or buying a special gift. We may wish to set a place at our table or prepare a favorite food our loved one enjoyed.

Regardless of our tradition or belief, we can create meaningful ways to acknowledge what we have lost and honor what remains. Whether our loss occurred last week or decades past, our grief can affect us. Grief is not limited to a specific period of time, nor is it something to be experienced in a prescribed way.

Though grief is a universal phenomenon it is as unique to us as the relationships and events that shape our lives.

There will be aspects of our grief that are not shared by anyone. Acknowledging our grief is not a failure on our part nor does it signify our inability to cope. We all struggle. We all have difficult moments. We all experience loss, and we all deserve support when we need it.

Finally, although we may not be grieving, chances are we know someone who is. If we, or someone we know, is having a difficult time there are a number of agencies and mental health professionals trained to offer competent and compassionate support such as Hospice of the Wabash Valley, Compassionate Friends, and the Hamilton Center.

If you need additional information on how to locate support services please contact the listed agencies or Indiana State University’s Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality at 812-237-2464.

— Dr. Christine Kennedy, LCPC, ACS

Director, Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality

Indiana State University


Terre Haute

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