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Managing Grief and Loss during the Holiday Season


The holiday season may not be merry and bright for everyone, especially those who have experienced the recent loss of a loved one, or if this is the first Christmas without a family member or friend.

Doyle Patterson, senior chaplain of Palliative Medicine at Covenant Medical Center, says grief includes much more than losing someone you love. He defines grief as an expression of emotions when you suffer almost any kind of a loss. It can be the loss of a marriage, loss of a job, or loss of your health and mobility as you have known it.

But around the holidays, loss of a loved one is usually how most people think of grief and grieving.

“I encourage those who’ve had a loss to not be afraid to talk about their loved one, and they say ‘I don’t want to because I'm going to cry.’ And tears are ok,” Patterson said. “They’re very normal, they’re natural.”

Patterson says it’s important to deal with your grief and loss, but he said it can take some time.

"I would encourage people who are grieving to be patient with themselves, to take care of themselves and to understand their emotions are real, their feelings are real, their tears are real and OK, and even laughter is OK,” Patterson said.

He says family gatherings are about celebrating the people in that family, and remembering them. But, he said we all need to remember that the person who is grieving is going through something they may have never experienced before, and they will move on from this on their own timetable.

“Grief affects every part of our life. Our social, physical, emotion, spiritual, all of it. And it’s true that the holidays will not be the same after the death of a person or a major change in life, but in time, laughter and joy will return.”

It might be tempting to step back and let the person who is grieving have more space and time alone. But one of the things you don’t want to do is for them to feel isolated. Find creative ways to get them involved. Say to yourself, “They’re coming with us, we’re going to help them participate and enjoy the best they can.”

He recommends finding someone to talk to when you’re dealing with grief. He says support can come from professional help, a grief support group, or just someone you know you can talk to.

“At the holiday times, if you’re experiencing grief, don’t be alone,” Patterson reiterated. “Seek people out, be with them, people you know will listen to you.”

He said it’s important to grieve because doing that can help your overall health.

“If you don’t, your emotions become internalized, they get stuffed,” he said. “At some point it will come out, and it will usually come out in a negative way, exploding at friends and family in anger, and those types of things, so it’s healthier to have someone walk with you who understands as you walk through it, and there’s no exact time frame for that healing.”

Categories: Family Care, Mental Health
This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please seek medical advice from your physician for any related medical condition. If you are in need of a primary care doctor, click here to find one in the Covenant Health network.

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