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Coping with grief during the Holidays

Reprinted with permission of The Weekly Anchor Newspaper

by Lisette McArthur MSW
  The icy claw of grief tightens its grip during the holiday season. Festive atmospheres appear gray, children’s laughter turns to shrill noise. For those of us who have lost a parent, a brother, a child or a significant other, holidays may become an obstacle course, during which we learn to hide our feelings of loneliness and grief.

  Each year re-enacts this parody. We tell ourselves-this year will be different! And with the right attitude and careful planning, we might actually avoid falling into the same anxious and sad state.
  As we age we also face the prospect of seeing other loved ones succumb to cancer, odd accidents and even violent crimes. Most of those who lose someone feel ashamed to be alive. They feel that they should have also died, and that they are not deserving of life. This is called “survivor guilt’. Along with it also comes the fear that we will never be the same and that the ‘good’ part of life left with that person.
  How different it would be if we knew that the person who has died would get to ‘visit’ and give us pointers a few months or years after they passed! We would be held ‘accountable’ for wallowing in self pity and for giving up precious years looking at the past.
  Driving in reverse, with your head facing back and your rear forward is not a safe way to maneuver through life. So imagine that dear person staring at you while you hide away from friends, avoid carolers, and ignore family! What would they say to you?
  You will not be able to avoid grief, but you can plan for it. You can budget your money and time for holidays. Joining a charitable organization during their food and clothes drive season can give you a loving and giving environment where your grief, while still present, will be reduced and distracted.
  For those who are unable to leave their homes, there are many event planning and other supportive tasks that are essential for the always-struggling charitable organizations. A disability does not stop your ability to help.
  Attend a seasonal play or rewarding yourself by participating in church activities. Craft clubs are always looking for new members. A good cook is always welcome in the fundraising banquets
  Giving of yourself is so rewarding that it will soon become a treasured holiday tradition. It not only distracts our grief but it also teaches us to look outside ourselves. It reopens our eyes to the suffering and strength of others from a positive and powerful position: that of helper, healer and giver.