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The Progress Home >> Saturday, December 8, 2012 - Grief counselor offers advice for coping with loss during the holidays

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Grief counselor offers advice for coping with loss during the holidays
Saturday, December 8, 2012
For most people, the holidays are a joyful time, filled with visits from family and friends, social gatherings and special meals.
However, the holidays can be difficult for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, especially during the first year after the death. At a time when everyone is supposed to be happy, the bereaved can feel sad, lonely and depressed.
For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, Lori Parks, certified grief counselor for Clearfield Hospital Hospice, offers the following suggestions (created by Darcie Sims, a nationally certified grief counselor) to help give the holidays a new meaning.
• Be patient and realistic. Sometimes our own high expectations of the holidays make the pain and frustration more acute. People have a mental picture of how things should be. However, those expectations are usually based more on fantasy than reality. Remember, you are grieving. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and realistic about what you expect. Leave the word "ought" out of the holiday season. It is difficult to be realistic while you are grieving, but it is also an important strategy for health and well being. Plan ahead so you are not overwhelmed by responsibilities at the last moment. Make lists. Prioritize things. Decide what is important to you this holiday season, and scratch the rest off the list for this year.
• Listen to your heart and acknowledge your limits. Spend some quiet time before the rush of the holidays listening to your heart. Become aware of your needs and express them to family and friends with whom you plan to spend the holidays. Encourage others to share their feelings too, so every one affected by the death of your loved one has an opportunity to express his or her wishes about holiday plans. Remember it is OK to say no. You do not have to accept every invitation or fulfill every responsibility that comes your way. Accept invitations and take on obligations only as you have the energy and time to do so. Do what you can this holiday season and let that be sufficient. If you can't decorate the yard, decorate the house. If the house seems too big to tackle, decorate a room or even just a table. Simplicity is fine. Eat well and exercise; both are important for your health. If you listen to what your heart and body are telling you, the holidays will pass more peacefully.
• Adapt cherished traditions. When loss and grief overwhelm at the holidays, people are sometimes tempted to scrap the whole thing, to do absolutely nothing. But you can keep traditions alive in ways that make sense given the new reality of your life. For instance, if the fact you won't be buying a gift for your departed loved one this year saddens you, buy a simple gift that you know he or she would have liked and give it to someone who otherwise would not have a gift.
Hang the stockings by the fireplace if you wish; place a wreath on the grave if that seems appropriate. Do whatever feels right for you and your family. If you are alone this year as a result of your loss, find a way to share a part of the holidays with others. Visit a soup kitchen or stop by a nursing home. Attend a community holiday dinner at a local church. You may find yourself forging new bonds out of shared losses.
• Allow the tears to come, but look for joy amidst the pain. As you unpack and sift through holiday decorations, understand that along with the warm, loving memories, you will be unpacking some heartache as well. Don't deny yourself the gift of healing tears.
• Focus on the spiritual dimension of the holiday. One way to refashion the holidays is to focus on religious meaning. In the Christian tradition, Advent can be a time of quiet reflection and spiritual preparation. In this season of light, remember the light your loved one has brought to your life. Light a special candle - not in memory of the death, but in celebration of a life and love shared. Spend a moment in quiet prayer of thanksgiving for having loved and been loved by this person.
Holidays of other faith traditions are also steeped in religious significance. However you observe the season, let your grief lead you to a deeper appreciation for the time-honored traditions of the holiday season, traditions that bring home the meaning of God's promise of everlasting love and life.
• And finally, take heart. Right now, you may feel like the scattered pieces of a broken puzzle. Honor that feeling, but also take comfort in knowing that the pieces of the puzzle can be reshuffled, rearranged and pieced together to form a new picture.
"Getting through the grief, at times it seems like you may never be OK, but the blur you feel at first is temporary, and it will subside, as your heart heals. Everything is different, and what was once is not now, and the feelings you have from that may surprise you, but they too are only temporary. Each day you're going to feel different for a while as you journey through the grief," Parks said.
Clearfield Hospital Hospice provides personal care and support for terminally ill people and their families. It serves residents of Clearfield, Centre and Jefferson counties and portions of Indiana and Cambria counties.
The agency also provides grief counseling as well as two Coping with Loss support groups facilitated by Parks. The first is a daytime group; it meets the second Monday of each month at 1:30 p.m. at the home health office, 438 W. Front St., Clearfield (beside Subway).
There is also an evening support group, which meets the second Tuesday of each month from 6-7 p.m. at the same location. These support groups are open to any individual experiencing the loss of a loved one.
For more information, call Clearfield Hospital Hospice at 768-2012.

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