By Christy Lochrie, Record Searchlight, December 9, 2007
The faces in the audience were drawn and pensive. Some gripped their spouse's hand in support while others were solo for a holiday grief seminar, hosted by Mercy Hospice Services in Redding.
Ray Hemenway, a Mercy chaplain, asked the gathered what emotions they feel during the holidays. Heads nodded as he ticked through a list that included fear, anxiety and loneliness. Then he asked if anyone feels a sense of loss while the world bustles around them.
Hands shot up.
"We have these expectations that everyone is supposed to be happy over the holidays," said Emily Sawyer, manager of Mercy Hospice Services.
Hemenway continued the seminar, hoping to help those who have recently suffered the death of a loved one learn to cope with their loss during the holiday season. But a death doesn't have to be recent for the pain to resurface - especially during the holidays, when advertisements showcase gleaming smiles and happy families.
"One of the things that happens during the holidays is the culture tells you about the importance of family," said Phil Copitch, a Redding therapist and author.
And when there's a loss, simple things - a family tradition, favorite Christmas carol, a glimpse of someone who resembles the person who died - can renew the sadness, Sawyer said.
"You never really get over grief," Sawyer said. "Grief doesn't go away. The intensity lessens, but only after time. But there's not specific time."
But there are things that can help when dealing with grief during the holidays.
Copitch said to start with taking care of yourself physically, which includes getting a good night's sleep, exercising and eating well. They're all seemingly little things, but have a big impact on how you think, feel and your psychological state.
Grieve in your own way, Copitch said. And don't let anyone tell you how to grieve or thrust a "get over it" timeline on you.
Make future plans, a trip, for instance, that you can look forward to.
On the traditions and holiday front, Sawyer offered up more coping tips: to help with coping
Create a new tradition or do an old one differently. If shopping conjures up difficult memories, shop online or from a catalog. If music helps, listen to it. If it hurts, turn it off.
Speak the person's name, share a memory and have a toast in their honor. Setting a place at the table can honor the person, too, Sawyer said.
"Don't pretend that you're not feeling that loss," Sawyer said.
But while remembering is good, a remembrance gesture can turn into a problem if, for instance, no one is allowed to sit in the favorite chair of a loved one who has died.
Don't grieve alone, Copitch said. It breeds isolation and loneliness. Instead, talk with friends and family.
"Give yourself permission to talk about your grief," Copitch said.
When to seek professional, psychological help: "When you have intense feelings of guilt, suicide or deep feelings of worthlessness," Copitch said.
Reporter Christy Lochrie can be reached at 225-8309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at blogs.redding.com.
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