WW23 December 21, 2016: Grief During the Holidays: A Challenging Time for All

Wednesday Wisdom Series: Grief During the Holidays: A Challenging Time for All
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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation. 

Grief During the Holidays: A Challenging Time for All

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The holidays bring parties and celebrations with family and friends for most of us.
But for those who are grieving, the holiday season is one of the most challenging
times aside from funerals, memorial services, and other rituals. Buying Christmas
presents and putting up a tree is particularly hard on parents who have lost a child,
especially if there are other children at home who expect the usual joy and surprises
associated with Santa Claus. One mother of three children, whose son died in
an accident shortly before the holidays, was haunted by the question of what to do
with his stocking—as she tearfully went on with the traditions she knew her surviving
children were expecting of her.           

For those of us whose personal circle includes someone who has experienced a
close family member’s death during the year, finding a holiday greeting that is
suitable for them, along with how to address the loss at social event, party, or
office celebration presents a challenge as well.  Years of listening to survivors
discuss the challenges they have faced and what helped them led us at the
Foundation to offer the following suggestions:

Invite grieving people to parties and other social events – Per the Centers of
Disease Control (CDC), it is a myth that suicides increase during the holidays.
Studies show that suicides decrease during the month of December. Socialization
and connection with others are associated with this decrease, i.e., Christmas and
other holiday parties actually help those who may be suffering from depression.
Therefore, do include the bereaved in social activities. 

Acknowledge the loss of someone’s friend or family member – There is
confusion that a grieving person may not wish to “be reminded” of the death of
a loved one at any time, but especially during a social event during the holidays.
But Foundation interviews show that people are always grateful to others who
speak the name of the deceased. Thoughts of their loved one are always
present – especially during the holidays – so there is little chance of someone
becoming upset because their loved one is mentioned. A simple acknowledgement
is fine, something like, “I was sorry to hear about (name)’s death.” Or “I am
sorry about your loss.” Note that regardless of the nature of the death, especially
if it is death by suicide, refer to the death or loss without mentioning how they died.
It is the person who perished who is important, not how they died.

Choose words carefully in holiday greetings to the bereaved – Spiritual
writer Eckert Tolle reminds us that while there are times in our lives where it is
nearly impossible to feel happy or joyous, we can hope to experience peace. In
our interviews with the bereaved, numerous family members recall experiencing
‘peace that passes all understanding’ in the midst of funerals, memorial services,
and other very unlikely times.  Therefore, in holiday greetings, one can never
go wrong in wishing blessings of peace to the bereaved during the holiday season
and in the coming year. 

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Those in leadership positions might do well to think ahead about team members
who have lost loved ones during the year and determine ways to reach out to them.
As with all assistance to families, we start with asking permission to help with any
needs the family may have. While many families may not feel comfortable in asking
for help, offering suggestions may be helpful to them and seem less burdensome to
the organization if it comes from the company’s leadership team in the form of a
suggestion of what the company can and wants to do for them. The following are
some ideas from the Foundation’s experiences.
            Setting up a fund to help the family with money to purchase the “extras”
            associated with holidays;
            Obtaining a list of toys for the children and purchasing them;
            Wrapping and delivering the toys to the home in time for “Santa”
            to deliver.
            Collecting money from other team members and making a donation in
            the deceased’s name to their preferred charity.
There are countless ways to support families at all times, and there is no more
essential time than the holidays to make sure that those grieving are not forgotten.
From all of us at the Foundation, we wish you and yours a peaceful and loving
holiday season and all the very best for the coming New Year! 

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