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Holidays bring grief for some

For someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, once-joyful holiday rituals can evoke feelings of great sorrow. Whether the loss is the result of death, a miscarriage or a divorce, the sadness may be intensified by the holiday season, a ...

Rev. John Rieth
The Rev. John Rieth, Altru Health System Chaplain and manager of pastoral services used to discuss grief from a proefessional perspective, but now shares his personal experiences. Rieth's first wife died of cancer. (Herald photo by Jackie Lorentz)

For someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, once-joyful holiday rituals can evoke feelings of great sorrow.

Whether the loss is the result of death, a miscarriage or a divorce, the sadness may be intensified by the holiday season, a time which typically is charged with emotion, said The Rev. John Rieth, Altru Health System pastoral services chaplain/manager.

"In the past you've shared with that individual. Now they're gone."

Rieth knows first-hand how difficult the holiday season can be after losing someone.

When his first wife died, he and his sons felt lost and alone on Christmas Eve even though they spent it with other people, Rieth said. He recalls that some people knew that he was sad, but didn't know what to say to him or to his sons.

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If only they would have known, they didn't have to say anything. It's a great gift to the grieving or mourning person simply to listen to them, Rieth said.

"To have someone who you can trust and who will sit and listen to you until you're done talking..."

Sometimes the person may want to share stories about their loved one and other times they may want to talk about how much they miss him or her. People shouldn't be afraid they'll make their friend feel bad if they say the name of the loved one they lost, Rieth said.

"Most people who lose a loved one like it when they say their name. They thought they'd be forgotten," Rieth said.

Beyond listening, another way to help people who have experienced a loss is to include them in an activity.

"Try to stay away from saying, 'If there's anything I can do, please call,'" Rieth said. A better approach is "step in and do something."

But if the grieving or mourning person doesn't want to participate in activities, that's OK.

If people don't want to bake cookies, decorate the house or send out Christmas letters, they shouldn't feel obligated to do so, he said.

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Instead, they should only do as much as they feel like doing.

Coping strategies

According to Altru Health System's "Coping with the Holidays" pamphlet some things that have helped people who have lost someone cope include:

• Lighting a candle in memory of the loved one and sharing stories about him or her.

• Setting an extra place at the table and talking about the loved one.

• Making a donation or buying a gift for a good cause or for someone in need in memory of the loved one.

• Decorating a potted evergreen and saving it to plant in the spring.

• Giving a gift to the loved one's favorite charity.

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• Planning a time alone with memories where the grieving or mourning preson can be themselves and say and do what he or she pleases.

• Volunteering at a local shelter providing food and clothing for people less fortunate than themselves.

According to the pamphlet, other things that can help people who have lost someone get through the holidays include:

• Take stock of how they are functioning physically. If they have difficulty sleeping, eating or have any other health concerns, it's a good time for them to visit their primary care physician for a routine check-up.

• Exercise is one way to reduce stress. If the thought of exercising is overwhelming, start out small. Walking is a good way to begin.

• Think about what replenishes them spiritually, whether it may be prayer, nature or music. Find out what comforts them and take time to incorporate it into their lives.

Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to abailey@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: HEALTH
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