Manage grief during the holidays

Thursday, December 15, 2011

There is always a holiday coming, regardless of the time of year; however, the Christmas season is especially difficult for many who have lost a loved one.

Holidays are usually a festive time of anticipated celebration. When the family circle has been broken by death, holidays and special days may only serve as reminders of the "empty chair" at the holiday table and the pain of a broken heart.

"Holidays are a time when the past and present collide," said Randy Martin, bereavement coordinator for Hospice Compassus in Monett. "It can be during these times that the bereaved find themselves filled with despair and renewed grief.

"Yet, holidays can become a time of reflection, renewal, recollection and reconnection," Martin continued. "All with pleasant and comforting thoughts."

Martin shares some insights of how bereaved family members deal with the empty chair during this holiday season and how to make this Christmas a joyous one.

"Don't concern yourself with eliminating pain," Martin said. "Rather, concern yourself with how you will manage the pain.

"This is your time and your grief," he continued. "Do what is right for you."

Martin encourages those who are bereaved to be aware of their feelings and acknowledge them.

"Tears, depression, anger, guilt and loneliness are all natural and usually elevated during this time," Martin said. "By acknowledging these feelings, they will dissipate more quickly."

Grief hurts any time.

"Be gentle with yourself and let go of any 'oughts' and 'shoulds,'" Martin said. "Try to forgive yourself for surviving the death of a loved one."

Martin also recommends changing daily routines by having dinner at a different time or place, attending a different church service, opening presents at a different time, asking other to help take over hosting events, celebrating in a different way or giving cash or gift cards instead of gifts.

"Work at lifting depression," Martin said. "Take responsibility for yourself. Don't wait for someone else to give you joy. Treat yourself. Create your own healing environment and be passionate about enjoying life."

Martin also recommends giving to honor a loved one and blessing someone with a meaningful gift by giving away family treasures.

"Buy your loved one a gift, and then give it away," Martin said. "It just feels good."

Martin recommends making a list and shopping ahead of time.

"Shop on one of your good days and take a friend along," he said.

Instead of focusing on the empty chair, change thought patterns by giving thanks and being grateful for the memories of all the times the chair was occupied.

"Our loved ones share much with us," Martin said. "Love, happiness, laughter. We are loved and rich beyond measure because of what our loved ones have given us. A spirit of gratitude is joy to the soul."

Martin said it's normal to grieve for a portion of the holiday season but counter against letting grief overwhelm the holiday season.

"The 'empty chair at the holiday table' is only empty if we choose," Martin said. "Invite someone to have a seat, to share your Christmas and holidays."

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