Facing loss

Tips for coping with grief during holidays

by Zirconia Alleyne


[L]et’s face it – shopping for the perfect Christmas gift can be burdensome and even stressful for many people.

The holidays are difficult. Whether you’re trying to decide which in-law’s house to go to for Thanksgiving or how to afford the latest tech gizmo for your trendy teen, getting through the whirlwind of winter holidays is not easy on anybody. Add to the merry madness the loss of a loved one, and coping with grief during the holly-jolly season no longer looks like the best time of the year.

Karen Cantrell, president of the local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, said grieving is especially difficult during the holidays. The self-help grief support group focused its November meeting on tips for getting through the holidays without your loved one. Cantrell offered the following tips:

1. Know that the holidays are going to be painful no matter what. “Facing it squarely and planning what you do and do not want to do during that time is important,” Cantrell said.

2. Be easy on yourself and don’t put on too many expectations. “The main thing is just managing how you do things and not being afraid to ask someone to help you in decorating, cooking and holiday shopping,” she said. “It can be difficult getting out into the stores with the happy Christmas music if you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one. It can overwhelm and stress you; maybe do more online shopping instead.”

3. Change traditions if you want. “Instead of having Thanksgiving at your house, have it at someone else’s house – just change it up a bit,” she suggested.

Cantrell lost her newborn grandson, Caiden Eli Cantrell, in 2009. He was 33 days old.

“It was my son’s son, and my first grandchild,” she said. “I focused more on trying to support my son and his wife, trying to be the strong one, and about four or five months down the road, I realized I couldn’t handle it all by myself. I called the Pennyroyal Center and Mary Foster told me about The Compassionate Friends.”

The group will host a candle lighting ceremony and potluck dinner at 6 p.m. Dec. 13 at Christian County Baptist Association Building, 905 North Drive. Anyone who is grieving or offering support to anyone that is grieving is welcome to attend and light a candle in memory of their loved one.

Cantrell said keeping your loved one’s memory alive helps tremendously. She suggested hanging a special ornament for the deceased or making a donation to a charity in their honor.

“My little grandson was a baby so he didn’t get to share a Christmas with the family, but me and my other grandchildren go to the cemetery and light a Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols,” she said. “I myself like doing the Angel Tree because I couldn’t give gifts to him, so I bought those gifts and donated them to another child.”

Cantrell said it’s important to recognize that everyone grieves differently. She encourages friends and family of those who are grieving to allow them to do so.

She also said give them time and space to talk about the deceased if they want to.

“Listen,” she said. “Let them talk and do not try to offer any solutions because there’s really not anything one can do other than listen and be understanding.

“People think if you mention (the deceased’s) name you’re going to remind them, but you’re going to remind them that you think of them and loved them as well — that is a gift in and of itself.”

Cantrell said offering to help wrap gifts, cook or go with them Christmas shopping may be comforting.

“It just says, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of you.’”

Overall, Cantrell said give yourself permission to grieve, especially parents.

“It’s especially hard when you have other people depending on you, like children, and you’re trying to keep [the holidays] as normal as possible, but that’s when you’ve got to ask loved ones and friends for help.

“You can’t run from the grief,” she said, “eventually you’ve got to come back to that, but just facing it head on and talking about it with your family, about traditions you want to change, keep or skip, will help you get through it.”

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