Dealing with Grief during the Holidays

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Getting Through the Holiday Season Without…….

by Barb Hennessy, as seen in the Holiday 2013 issue of GoodLiving magazine.

This column is dedicated to my older brother, Steve, and to his wife, Susan. She died at age 65 on September 24, 2013, after years of struggling with brain cancer that recurred after being treated aggressively several times.  Susan and Steve decided to stop treatment in May. Steve was able to keep her comfortable at home surrounded by pets, friends and family. Susan was a registered nurse and a US Air Force veteran.  She retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 23 years of service.

The spirit moved me to speak at Susan’s memorial service.  The following is the message that I gave to my family, friends, and neighbors that day as a way to thank all them for their caring support to Susan and Steve during her illness.

“First, honor your pain and the jumble of emotions surrounding the loss.  You are now beginning the second phase of life after death.  Grief is the INSIDE feelings and emotions you experience from a trauma or loss.  Mourning is the OUTSIDE expression of what is inside.

Help each other to move through your grief.  Be supportive of each other’s need to listen, cry, laugh, and share the memories of Susan.  The playwright, Robert Anderson, wisely noted, ‘Death ends a life, it does not end a relationship.’

You are now on a journey with grief.  The journey is different for everyone, and it is the same for everyone in that grief always involves intense emotions.  There is no right or wrong way to do this, but trying to avoid it altogether is useless and can be self-defeating.

Louise Hay said, “Tears are the river of life, shed in joy as well as sadness and fear.”

Tears are a sign of healing…let them flow whenever and wherever they come. The journey can include a range of intense emotions from denial, anxiety, frustration, through disorientation and disorganization, to anger, guilt, depression, relief, and gratitude. Grief is unpredictable, circular, messy and ongoing.

Continue to support each other as you create the “new normal” in your life without Susan…”

FAST FORWARD THREE MONTHS LATER: My family and I are preparing for the first holiday season since Susan’s death.

These are my suggestions for getting through grief that can be triggered any time there is a holiday, anniversary, or other special occasion.

First, remember that the only way to the other side is through the grief. There is no way around it.

Allow yourself to create new traditions for the season and experiment with ways to cope with your sadness and stress.  Be aware of those words OUGHT and SHOULD.  Only you can decide what you are capable of doing during the holidays – or any other emotionally charged occasion.

Open your heart to spiritual support.  Communicate with your family and friends about what you feel like doing.  At the same time be sensitive to their needs.  Remember everyone is on their grief journey.

Tears will come…public or private…all is well.  What would it say about your loved one if you did not cry freely?  Know that you can laugh and have fun too.  You may well be laughing and crying together over a special memory or story.  Encourage the sharing of stories and use your loved one’s name!

Include your deceased loved one in the celebration in any way that feels right to you. Let others know your plans in advance so that they can participate.

Decorate their grave site. Cook their favorite food.  Give gifts in their name.  Donate to their favorite charity or cause.  Assemble a group memory book with family members and friends contributing pictures or mementos along with a written remembrance.  What a priceless legacy.

Take gentle care of yourself physically and emotionally.  Eat nutritious food, rest, exercise. Both sugar and alcohol are depressants, enjoy in moderation.  Grief is circular.  It ebbs and flows at will.

Grief transforms you.  Nature does not know extinction.  It only knows transformation.

Barb Hennessy, MS, CRC is a Certified Grief Mentor and a Somatic Intuitive Practitioner, skillfully assisting her clients in resolving grief and trauma. Barb is the founder of The Joy Within, a unique method for helping clients to release emotions buried in the body. She speaks to groups, facilitates Grief Cafes℠ and provides staff trainings on stress management and healthy grief. Information for this article was derived from materials provided by Grace Terry at Grief Resolution Resources and Carole McLeod of Grief Matters. Visit her website at or contact her at 727-409-7428.

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Written by Pamela Settle, owner of Light Shine Media Group and publisher of GoodLiving® Magazine. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced without permission.

GoodLiving Magazine® is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.

As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.

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