LIMA — For many people, the holiday season means family, food, gifts and celebrating their faith, but for those who have lost someone they love, this time of year can look like an obstacle course.
“The holidays can be stressful to begin with,” said MaryAnn Reichmanis, one of the six facilitators of the GriefShare program at Shawnee Alliance Church, “but add in if someone recently lost a loved one or even if they lost one years ago, and the holidays can be very difficult.”
GriefShare, a national program aimed at helping those who have lost a loved one, has groups all over the country. Shawnee Alliance Church, who hosts a group, will be offering a special presentation from GriefShare through DVD Wednesday on dealing with grief during the holidays. The program at the church normally meets 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for 13 weeks and is offered twice a year. The fall session began in September and the next session will start on Jan. 9.
“This special session talks about emotions that may hit you over the holidays,” said Reichmanis. “It talks about those emotions that might surprise you and how to handle all the traditions, parties and invitations that were part of your past holidays.”
Beth Boehr-Miller and her husband Ralph Miller both part of the six-member team that leads the group, lost their first spouses suddenly, and can empathize with the pain people are going through, especially during the holiday season. However, there are things that a grieving person can do to make the holidays a bit easier.
Boehr-Miller said, “We tell people to have a plan for the holidays. You have to give yourself permission not to go to everything. In your heart, you know what you can handle.”
At the same time, the Rev. Jerry Burton, discipleship and counseling pastor at Lima Baptist Temple encouraged the bereaved not to sit at home alone either. “If this is the first year, great difficulty lies in getting through that year of firsts. Do that by not isolating yourself. Try to be around people who are encouraging rather than staying by yourself,” he said.
Boehr-Miller agreed with that idea. “You may not be able to stay at a family gathering for hours, but don’t stay home alone either. Connect with people.”
It’s also important to communicate your limitations to family members. “If you have had 40 family members over your house for Thanksgiving every year and you just lost your spouse,” said Reichmanis, “you may not be able to do that this year. Let family know what you can and can’t do. It’s okay to say not this year.”
Rosalie Stluka, a clinical social worker at Personal Growth Counseling, added, “Eliminate the ‘shoulds’ because they usually come from the expectations of others. This is the time to be gentle with yourself.”
Establishing new traditions can be helpful, as well. “The first Christmas that Tim was gone,” said Boehr-Miller, “I got a small Christmas tree and had people bring ornaments that reminded them of Tim. I still put that tree up each year.”
On the flip side, there are also things others can do to help those that are grieving.
“It’s nice to ask the person to go to coffee and just really listen to them,” said Reichmanis. “A lot of times, they want to talk about the person they’ve lost, but people don’t want to listen. It’s also important not to say things like ‘He’s better off’ or ‘God must have needed another angel.’”
Boehr-Miller and Burton agreed that sometimes saying less is more. “Reaching out is important,” Boehr-Miller said. “I had a dear friend that brought me a book or she’d drop something off — just little gifts that showed that I was remembered. In the first few days everyone is there, but after a few months, you look around and wonder where everyone is.”
Burton stressed that actions do speak louder than words to those grieving. “It’s not the power of our performance, but the power of our presence that helps,” he said. “Invite them and include them — don’t just let them sit alone.”
Stluka added, “It varies with people, but it is easy for everybody around the grieving person to be afraid to mention the person who died. I think being willing to acknowledge that person who died can be very comforting rather than avoiding the obvious.”
While this time of year can be very difficult after losing a loved one, those grieving can navigate the holidays successfully.
“The one key is to acknowledge that things are different,” said Stluka. “It may take a good bit of time of reflection to figure out what is best for you and your family. That is okay though because there has been a major shift in your life.”