Christmas mourning: Getting through the holidays while grieving
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For more information about HospiceCare support groups for people who are grieving, call (608) 755-1871 or go online to hospicecareinc.com.
JANESVILLE Christmas is inescapable.
Even if you wanted to, you couldn't tune it out: the incessant carols on the radio, the stacks of newspaper inserts, the relentless ads on television.
For people who are grieving, the sights and sounds of the season are reminders that things are not the way they used to be.
People who are grieving often feel obliged to dress the tree and hide their wounds during the holiday.
What to expect
"One of the first things is you're going to have to accept is that it's going to be a painful time," said Fran Coan-Meredith, grief counselor at HospiceCare, Janesville.
Acknowledging that those feelings are natural and normal will actually help you get through.
Heidi Horton, certified physician's assistant, HealthNet volunteer and parish health minister at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Janesville agreed.
"You can't just pretend everything's OK," Horton said.
Prepare yourself for emotional swings.
"You're going to have some pretty strong waves of emotions that come and go," Coan-Meredith said.
Sadness, anger, guilt, depression and anxiety all are part of that.
So what's the best way to get through?
Do what you can
The year Horton's mother died, her father didn't want to celebrate Christmas.
"He didn't want to put a tree up or anything. He just didn't want to do it," Horton said.
Instead, the family went out to Libby's, a restaurant in her hometown of San Antonio.
"We just hung out together, we told stories about her," Horton said.
"Give yourself permission to do what you like. Do only as much as you feel like doing," she said.
That means you can to skip Christmas cards or cookies or hanging up the lights or any of the other million little things you do during the holidays.
Doing only what you want is an opportunity to assess what's important, Coan-Meredith said.
"You don't have to do all of those different things," Coan-Meredith said. "What are the meaningful things for you and for your family?"
Let your family know what your plans are ahead of time so they know what to expect.
Find a way to honor the memory of that person.
"An important part of the holidays can be keeping the memory of the person alive with a ritual or remembrance type of thing," Coan-Meredith said. "Light a candle or donate to a charity in their memory or go out to visit their grave."
Such rituals can bring comfort, and help people go forward without feeling like they've left their loved ones behind, Horton said.
Here's something else to remember:
"Grief gets better as the stories are told," Horton said.
That means it's OK to tell stories that will make you laugh. And it's certainly all right to cry, even on Christmas, Horton said.
Take care of yourself
Reach out to friends and family.
"Surround yourself with people who you can talk to, who you can trust and be supported by," Meredith-Coan said.
Make nourishment and rest important parts of your day so your body can cope.
"It means accepting your limitations," Meredith- Coan said.
Exercise helps, too. Something as simple as taking a walk around the block can improve your mood and release stress.
Finally, remember that HospiceCare has support groups for those who are grieving.
Reach out to others during the holidays
Certified physician's assistant Heidi Horton is relatively new to her position as parish health minister at Good Shepard Lutheran Church, Janesville.
Still, when the holidays rolled around, she knew it was important to acknowledge the losses church members had suffered.
Each person in the congregation who lost a loved one received a holiday card with a simple message such as, "I'm thinking of you as you remember..."
Even though she didn't personally know all every person who died, the cards meant something to the survivors.
Horton encourages people to reach out to their friends who have lost someone. Send them a note, or even better, give them a call, she said.
Don't worry about not knowing what to say. It's the contact that matters. If you knew the person who died, offer a small "I remember when" story about them. Or just listen to the bereaved person talk.