Although many people look forward to the holidays, there are those who view this time of year with dread because they are mourning the losses of loved ones.
“What we find with loss survivors is that they are confronted with repeated reminders of losses over time. With every holiday, anniversary or birthday, a survivor is reminded of the finality and irreversibility of loss,” said Steve Sweatt, clinical director of Community Grief Support. “Holidays are hard because they are typically occasions that revolve around family. These are such festive times. When others are involved with their families, survivors are reminded of what they no longer have.”
Each survivor has her own unique way of mourning and coping with the death of a loved one.
Some people are feeling-expressive, meaning they need to talk about their grief experiences, while others utilize an activity-oriented style, participating in activities that bring comfort and allow for expression of grief. Many people fall in the middle of the spectrum and engage in a combination of the two.
“One way we can cope during the holidays is to be aware of your coping and mourning style and the styles of those around you,” said Sweatt, a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
During the holidays, Sweatt said people tend to lean in one of three directions: nontraditional, where they abandon their usual traditions because these bring too much pain; traditional, where people get deeper into the traditions they held dear; or middle of the road, which allows for doing less of the traditional so as to avoid excessive fatigue and emotional pain.
“We encourage survivors to create a plan during the holiday season and to share that plan with family members and friends. Accept that there may be times when you need to cry and identify those safe people whom you can turn to for comfort and presence,” he said.
According to Sweatt, people shouldn’t feel bad about the way they are feeling. “Grieving isn’t unhealthy,” he said. “It’s our response to it that is either healthy or unhealthy.”
Some unhealthy ways of response include turning to alcohol or drugs or engaging in excessive “shopping therapy” which, if taken to the extreme, can be bad for the credit card and become a distraction from the need to mourn.
Although there is no specific timetable for grieving, it should gradually ease as survivors turn toward their unique ways of coping and mourning, Sweatt said.
“Mourning becomes problematic when an individual isn’t making progress over time. Sometimes the process seems like two steps forward and one step back,” he said.
Mourning might become complicated. Complication occurs when survivors do not experience movement over time. Typical situations that can lead to complication are the experience of a sudden, violent loss; substance abuse or other mental health problems; or a history of dependency on the person who has died. In these instances, he recommends seeking professional help.
“Sometimes the apprehension of the holiday season is worse than the experience itself,” Sweatt said.
To help survivors deal with the apprehension, Community Grief Support is sponsoring a November 21 Hope for the Holidays program from 4–7 p.m. in the fellowship hall of Bethel Baptist Church in Pratt City. During the free event, participants will learn practical ways to cope with the celebrations of life throughout the year. A light meal will be served, and participants are invited to bring small photos of their loved ones to place on the remembrance table as candles are lit in loving memory. To register, call 205-870-8667.
To find out more about Community Grief Support, visit www.communitygriefsupport.org.