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KEEPING THEIR MEMORY ALIVE: How to cope with loss during the holidays

Brenda Brummond and her family know how difficult the holidays can be for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. "There's always a part of us that wants to keep their memory alive," said Brummond who lost her son, by marriage, Russ, to s...

Brenda Brummond and her family know how difficult the holidays can be for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

"There's always a part of us that wants to keep their memory alive," said Brummond who lost her son, by marriage, Russ, to suicide in April 2009.

She, along with her husband, Richard, decided to create a "Remember Me" tree to give people an opportunity to honor their loved ones by decorating it with an ornament or note.

"The trees are symbols of peace and love," Brummond said. They're on display through Jan. 2 at Italian Moon restaurant in Grand Forks and RBJ's in Crookston, where many of Russ's relatives and friends live.

She chose the restaurants for their atmosphere and because of their continued support of the annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walks in Grand Forks.


"I wanted to do something for families and friends, to give them something special during the holidays," she said. "And to show that the person they lost is loved."

She sees a special need in people who've lost loved ones to suicide. "I've spoken to a lot of people who feel the same way," she said. "They want to speak out, find a way to remember the person they lost, to prevent this from happening to others.

"If we can prevent on family from going through the pain we're gone through, we're going in the right direction."

A time of reflection

Holidays are a time of reflection, and they stir memories of people who have fulfilled your life, said Ellen Feldman, psychiatrist at Altru Health System.

It's a time that accentuates the loss and "reminds us of the absence of the loved one," said Danielle Conrad, grief counselor at Altru Health System. "Holidays cause us to think about how to adjust to this 'new normal.'"

Persons experiencing grief have a loss of energy, are more tearful and have difficulty with concentration, she said.

"They may not want to decorate or do normal things to prepare for the holiday," Conrad said. "They may say, 'It's just not the same, doesn't have the same meaning' without the person they are missing."


Feldman recommends looking at how to turn this situation into an opportunity for growth, "an evolution of the healing process," she said.

Grief is physically and emotionally exhausting work, Feldman said. "You almost physically ache. The first couple of years, you're in survival mode."

"When we don't know how to cope with feelings, we may gravitate to unhealthy mechanisms, such as the use of drugs or alcohol," Conrad said. "Don't try to distract yourself from the pain. Be honest with yourself about what you're feeling and what you need."

Children take their cues from parents about what's acceptable behavior, Conrad said. They may wonder if it's okay to celebrate.

"If you're old enough to love, you're old enough to grieve. Parents can help by creating a safe environment to do this," Conrad said.

Children are less likely to say what they're feeling, but they may feel anger.

"Anger is one of the easiest emotions to grab for; you feel powerful when you're angry," she said. "It's a good wall to protect yourself and keep people away."

"Teenagers tend to worry about social pressure, 'what will be the reaction of my peers?'" Feldman said. They may feel they have to be strong for their parents.


Even though teens are adept at exerting their independence, they really do need the parent because, deep down, they may be fearful.

"It's a conflict of drives," she said.

Often children cling to the notion that somehow they are responsible for a person committing suicide, Feldman said. "They think, 'If only I'd been better, prettier, done more.' This runs very deep."

In counseling, "we work on letting go of that responsibility, on who's really responsible for what happened," Conrad said.

"Being honest and processing that, not pushing it back down, is important because it will come back -- even much later in life."

Advice for people dealing with grief

- Listen to yourself; be aware of your feelings

- Be patient and tolerant with yourself -- everyone grieves differently and on their own timetable


- Know and respect your own needs; allow yourself to participate, or not, in events

- Get outside, get exercise

- Eat well

- Reach out, to family members or professionals, for help

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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