Grieving Through the Holidays - ACH Lecture Offers Tips for Those Dealing with Loss
By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published December 2, 2015
Sue Antram, nurse and certified grief counselor with Alliance Hospice, offered tips for those grieving through the holidays during the Nov. 20 luncheon lecture held at Alliance Community Hospital.
“We need to acknowledge what is going on. We need to acknowledge our own grief; we need to acknowledge the person who is grieving,” Antram said.
She said when dealing with someone else who is grieving, people often get nervous because they don’t want to bring it up and make others cry, but for those who are going through an intense grief, they are thinking about it all the time anyway, so someone mentioning it isn’t bringing it up. She added it is good to talk about the person who was lost and suggested one way to acknowledge the person who has died is to say their name when talking to people about them. Another is to express that you have been thinking about the griever and tell a nice memory or story about the person who died, which lets that person know that their loved one was valued to someone besides themselves.
“It’s just affirming that person’s life, and letting people know they meant something to you, too,” she explained.
“Don’t try to avoid talking about the person. Don’t try to push it away, because what we have found is that we have to work on our grief; we have to work through the process, and by bringing it up and talking about it, at times, is very helpful,” she added.
Antram said sometimes we don’t know what to say to a person going through grief, but silence is okay, as is supportive touch. “We don’t always have the right words to say, but sometimes we don’t need words, we just need the presence of another person,” she said.
For those who aren’t prepared to be around the griever or are looking for an unintrusive way to let them know you’re thinking about them, she suggested sending a card with a handwritten message or memory.
Antram noted losses are each different in how they make a person feel and affect them. For example, loss of a child is unique because it is not natural for a child to die before their parents; loss of a spouse is unique because an undefinable loneliness can come with it that can be unbearable; and loss of a parent is unique because one has never known life without them.
She stressed that there is no right or wrong way to grieve — other than if the grief is hurting the griever or someone around them — and people handle the process in different ways. She added that despite the myth that it takes a year for the grieving process, grief never actually stops. “Grief takes the rest of our lives because they made an impact on our lives, they’re a part of us, they’re within us and we carry them with us,” she said. “We are going to grieve the person we lost for the rest of our lives. It just isn’t as intense as it was.”
She shared an analogy employees use in hospice, which compares grief to a ball of string. She said in the beginning it is a mess of string and as you go through the process, you are continually rolling up the ball of string, but sometimes things come up that make you drop the ball and it starts to unravel.
“It never completely unravels, and you never completely get the whole ball of string wound up,” she said, adding that when the ball gets dropped, it may feel like you’ve gone backward in the grieving process, but you eventually get more strength and pick the ball back up and continue winding it up again.
Random things may come up that make a person drop the ball, such as a song that comes on the radio, but holidays and important dates can be a trigger as well.
She offered some suggestions on healing holiday rituals that can be used specifically for those grieving a loss during the holiday season:
- Choose a candle or a single flower for the table to mark the continued love for your loved one.
- When it hurts too much to talk, write it down (journaling).
- Replace your artificial tree with a live tree this year, which can be planted after Christmas as a memorial.
- “Adopt” a needy family or foster family as a way of honoring your loved one.
- Provide memorial flowers for your loved one’s church or synagogue.
- Place a holiday wreath or miniature Christmas tree at your loved one’s gravesite.
- Use a special ornament for the tree in your loved one’s memory.
- Offer a dinner prayer or toast to your loved one.
- Hang a special Christmas stocking in memory of the loved one.
Antram said grief is emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. She encouraged the audience to attend a grief support group, where people can share their own experiences with grief and loss at various stages in the process. “It’s helpful sometimes to share our own story, so that we can see where we’ve been, too,” she said. “We all have moments where we feel weak; we all have moments when we just need somebody else to bounce things off of, and that’s what support groups are about.”
Alliance Hospice offers a formal and structured grief support group at 5:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at its office on West State Street. The group is meeting every Tuesday in December to help people deal with the holiday season. There is also an informal group that meets at 8:30 a.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Frank’s Family Restaurant. These meetings are open to the public. Attendees do not have to have lost someone while under the care of hospice to attend. For more information, contact Alliance Hospice at 330-596-7480.
Sue Antram, RN, BSN, grief counselor with Alliance Hospice, talks about helping others with grief Nov. 20 at the luncheon lecture at Alliance Community Hospital. Antram said grief never ends, but lessons in intensity over time as the griever goes through the grieving process (Courtesy of The Alliance Review, December 2, 2015).