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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Grief Can Make Holidays Difficult

Grief Can Make Holidays Difficult

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on December 14, 2003
Author: Juliette Kelley, Times Correspondent

The holiday season can be joyous, with family and friends getting together. But to many, it can make the loss of a loved one particularly difficult.

Six months ago, after 31 years of marriage, Jenny's husband, Frank, died of stomach cancer. Their three adult children live out of state, and she had never lived alone. At first, she couldn't even talk about Frank without breaking into tears. Now, Jenny feels her friends expect her to "get on with it," but she can't.

She still has no appetite and wakes up at night, lonely and afraid. She can't imagine ever feeling happy again.

The holidays are especially painful.

Our society often does not help us deal with death. There is unspoken pressure to "pull ourselves up by the bootstraps," cry (if necessary), but after the allotted three days of bereavement leave, "get on with your life."

Anyone who has experienced a death in the family can tell you how unrealistic those expec! tations are. Everyone grieves differently. There are some common threads, however, that might help you to better understand and survive your grief:

  • Grief doesn't always follow the progression predicted by some experts: denial, fear, anger, guilt and acceptance. Grief is more like a storm that rages with unpredictable intensity. One minute you're at peace, the next you're immersed in a personal hell that even those closest to you cannot understand.
  • Grief is not just crying. It can include crying, but it can also be all the emotions you endure anger, guilt, relief, immobility and numbness. These emotions can change within one day or one hour. Your grief will be as complex as your relationship with the deceased.
  • Grief cannot be denied. Some try to stay busy and ignore their feelings. But the emotions don't disappear because you refuse to feel them. Their intensity can overwhelm you when you least expect it.
  • Grief is forever. You won't always feel this paralyzed with grief; the feelings lessen over time and i ncorporate into your life. But special days, places and ideas will stir up the grief. "Closure" sounds like such a hopeful way to shut the door, but a sudden memory and the pain of loss may push the door open.
  • Grief is a part of who you are, a type of psychological scar. Like a scar, the experience will always be part of you. Your task throughout life will be to learn to grow and stretch around it.

When you experience a time of grief the death of someone you love, the end of a job, the death of a pet or any loss that affects you strongly remember to take care of yourself. Don't be embarrassed to excuse yourself from festive gatherings. Your body needs healthy food, regular sleep and some exercise. Share your pain with family members and friends. If you get stuck, consider professional help perhaps a therapist who has experience with grief counseling. Contact your local hospice or crisis center for information about support groups. Grief is not a three-day! problem.

Some resources: Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa, 925-609-1830; Contra Costa Crisis Center Grief Line, 800-837-1818; Sutter/VNA (West County), 510-450-8596.

Juliette Kelley is a grief counselor for Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa.

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