In the wake of a national tragedy, the joyful spirit of the holiday season may not necessarily represent how we feel inside.
The holidays are often a trigger for the bereaved and this year, for many families, Christmas may be worse than ever. There's a strange kind of paradox: “The absence of a loved one is noted and highlighted by what is supposed to be a time of celebration,” says psychologist Dr. Velleda Ceccoli. And, “there are associations and memories that remind the bereaved of the absence of the person they love,” grief counselor Rob Zucker told The Huffington Post.
While we wish there were a simple remedy for heartache, the coping proces differs from person to person. This year, our nation is trying to process the unthinkable act that took too many lives. "The loss of a child is a most devastating one," Dr. Ceccoli says. "It affects both parents and siblings, and each will deal differently with their loss." There are countless emotions that accompany grief: Ceccoli mentions denial, anger, regret and sadness.
What we experience while grieving may depend on the details of our loss. If the loss is recent, the bereaved is likely experiencing symptoms of acute grief. “The survivors are likely coping with trauma of the loss, they are still grieving,” says Dr. Velleda. Alternatively, “If the loss of a loved one comes about after a long illness, the survivors have had time to interact with their loved and and adjust to a degree to the fact that they will pass on,” she says.
There is no "right" prescription for coping with loss, but there are some things you can do to make the process more manageable. Below are 10 things that may help you and your family experience the grieving process.
If you're not in the holiday spirit, that's OK. It's important to communicate those thoughts directly, so others know what they can expect from you. <a href="http://drjoanne.blogspot.com/">Dr. Joanne Cacciatore</a>, board certified in bereavement trauma, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/grief-management-holidays_n_1406988.html#s846806&title=Communicate">told The Huffington Post</a> that she sits her clients down with their families so they can talk about what kind of support they need. "Communication and respectful, loving and compassionate open hearts will be the key to understanding what someone needs to get through a very painful day," she says.
Make A New Tradition
Zucker suggests creating a new tradition to remember your loved one. Making a conscious decision to spend some part of the day talking about this person will enable others to feel like they have permission to talk about him or her, too. Zucker knows one family who hangs a stocking in honor of the person they've lost. Throughout the evening, family and friends fill the stocking with items that serve as talking points for memories It's a wonderful tradition that "generates conversation in a comfortable way," he says.
Let Someone In
While you may feel weary of being perceived as a "downer," it's important to have at least one person who knows that your insides don't match the cheerful decor of the season. "If you keep it all inside, you’re going to harbor self-pity or fear about how you're going to get through it," Zucker says. "It’s harder to keep it in than sharing it -- so know that it's OK to admit that it’s a difficult season." While you may feel vulnerable expressing your sadness, having an ally will make you feel much less isolated. Choose someone trustworthy, and even mention that you're not expressing your feelings to many people.
Have An Exit Strategy
Something Zucker often recommends to his patients is driving their own car to the event they are attending. If it's possible, have your own mode of transportation (even if this means having the number for a taxi): It will give you control over where you are and how long you have to stay. If you feel you are ready to leave (and it might be earlier than other guests), you can do so without being disruptive.
Find A Grief Group
"Finding a supportive network can be very helpful," Dr. Ceccoli says. Seeking out others who will possibly better understand your feelings may help you feel less alone over the holidays. Grief groups are free to join and attend. <a href="http://www.cjsids.org/grief-and-bereavement/if-youre-bereaved.html">Start here</a> to find one in your area. You can also call a nearby hospice: The employees will be able to direct you to nearby support groups and holiday-focused programs.
Know That It's OK To Cry
In fact, your tears may help others access their own emotions. Zucker says that many are compelled to dull their sadness because they fear bringing down the mood, but crying -- and expressing your emotions -- can actually pave the way for others to do the same. It takes the pressure off "holding it together."
Carry Out A Ritual
Zucker suggests carrying out a kind of ritual your loved one may have performed over the holiday. Did he go on a Christmas Eve walk? Did she make a point to sit in a particular pew? Carrying out your loved one's ritual, whatever it may be, is enriching and shows your respect. "It could be very healing."
Dedicate Your Gift
You may have thought about what you would have bought your loved one for the season. Or, you may have some gifts that could remain unopened. This year, consider buying the gift and giving it to someone else. You can decide to explain the significance by the gift, or just reap the pleasure that comes along with giving. "You don't have to lose the satisfaction of gift-giving," says Zucker. You'll just be redirecting the process.
Find a way to volunteer your time this year, whether at a shelter, soup kitchen or children's hospital. "Service is a very powerful healer," Dr. Cacciatore <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/grief-management-holidays_n_1406988.html#s846681&title=Turn_Your_Heart">told</a> The Huffington Post. You can give back with dedication in mind -- thinking of your loved one, and what your service would mean to him or her. Helping others in need will make you feel good -- <a href="http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf">studies have shown</a> that your self-esteem increases and symptoms of depression decrease when you feel you're part of an important solution for a person in need.
<a href="http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-6987/You-Are-the-Most-Important-Person-in-YOUR-World-8-Ways-to-Practice-SelfCare-Over-the-Holidays.html">Practicing self-care over the holidays</a> is a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/holiday-stress-triggers_n_2295862.html">good idea for everyone.</a> For the bereaved, Zucker says, self-care is particularly important because your energy levels are drained. "Get enough sleep, watch the alcohol intake, eat well and exercise," Zucker suggests.
Related Video: Ten Steps To Help A Child Grieve
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