The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for families still grieving the loss of loved ones. During a season full of festivity, holiday traditions may also trigger a sudden memory followed by strong feelings of loss.
Whether the death was sudden or expected, recent or years ago, an immediate family member or a friend, clinicians from Menninger’s Outpatient Services Clinic in Bellaire, Texas remind the community that grieving is a process and it differs from person to person.
“Grief is felt differently by everyone and it’s futile to think that you should be able to just get over losing someone who was a significant part of your life,” said John J. O’Neill, EdD, LCSW, LCDC, CAS, the clinical director of Menninger’s Outpatient Services Clinic, Bellaire. “It’s important to recognize the stages of grief, identify emotions and accept feelings of sadness and depression.”
The five stages of grief that most people experience after the death of a loved one are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While everyone may not experience all five stages or even go through them in the same order, these concepts have been shown to be very effective in the healing process.
“The stages are not definitive. For instance, in the acceptance stage you’ve accepted the fact that the loss is real and permanent, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll no longer have emotions about the death. You’re now learning how to manage those emotions in a healthy way,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill gives five tips for managing emotions related to grief during the holiday season:
- Identify ways to pay tribute to your loved one. Some examples include lighting a special candle, scheduling time during holiday festivities to tell stories with family and friends, praying or including an extra table setting in memoriam.
- Allow your feelings to manifest into emotions. It’s okay to cry and talk about your feelings with friends and family. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up.
- Remember that you are not alone. Allow friends and family to be there for you. Rely on your support system.
- Develop a “Plan B” for the holidays. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you don’t need to pretend to be happy and go through the motions.
- Avoid substance abuse. It’s tempting to want to numb your feelings with alcohol or drugs, but this will only offer temporary relief with potentially long-term consequences such as addiction. Instead be sure to eat healthy foods as much as possible, exercise and take time to relax or meditate.
“In addition to these tips, reach out to a therapist, counselor or other mental health professional for extra support and help during this difficult time,” said Angela Koreth, MS, LPC-S, program manager of Menninger’s Outpatient Services Clinic, Bellaire. “There are a variety of therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy that have helped people overcome grief.”