Getting Grieving Kids Through the Holidays

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Children who are grieving have their own difficulties getting through the holidays but the adults in their lives can help make it easier on them. Their little brains are trying to understand what’s happened.  Death is just as confusing to them as it is to us as adults.  Here are just some ideas to consider as you help a little one through.

  • Set limits.  Children can easily get tired during the holidays, even more so if going through grief.   Be sure to schedule in rest, utilize down time and have your child get plenty of sleep.
  • Allow your child to feel however they choose throughout the holidays.  Don’t expect them to always be cheerful when they’re going through loss.
  • Unless your tears and emotions are completely unmanageable, try not to hide your own sorrow or feelings of grief from children, even if it is a holiday or a special occasion.  It is okay for children to understand what the appropriate response is when we lose someone we love.  If they are 5 years old, they’ll understand that sometimes we cry when we’re sad.  A 10 year old child might cry with you for a minute, feeling connected in that shared emotion.  If they are 15, they might roll their eyes and pretend they’re annoyed that you can’t control your emotions all the while secretly feeling validated and reassured that they aren’t the only one thinking about their loved one.
  • By acknowledging a child’s loss and grief feelings, you give them the reassurance that grief is normal and that there is nothing wrong with them. Validating their thoughts and feelings means you might have to admit you’re sad, that you miss that person too.
  • Keep an atmosphere that is open for them to ask questions or talk about the deceased.  By doing this you can actually enhance your connection with that child and strengthen the bond between you.
  • Tradition.  Consider keeping some of the same holiday traditions but don’t be afraid to start new ones.  Talk to the kids to get their thoughts on keeping some old and trying some new.  Traditions can be a source of comfort but some may seem too unbearable to go through.  A new tradition may help keep your child interested and engaged during this time of the year.
  • Find a way to memorialize your child’s loved one.  It may be helpful to incorporate the deceased into a special ritual or activity.  Even something as simple as putting together a collage or scrapbook of past holidays with the deceased or decorating ornaments in their loved ones name can make the loss easier to bear.

Keeping these tips in mind during the holiday season and even throughout the year can help kids stay focused on the healthy road to healing.  Reinforcing the reasons we do have for celebrating can always help put a positive spin on most any occasion.  Peace.


Alcohol and Grief – A Bad Idea


If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one it may be tempting to drown your sorrows in a bottle of alcohol. Hanging out with your friends Jim, Jack and Jose may initially seem like a good way to escape your sadness but it’s one of the worst things you can do for yourself.  Having a toast in the name of your loved one might sound like a nice idea but it could spiral into unhealthy coping very quickly.  Here’s why using alcohol while going through grief is a bad idea:

  1. Alcohol is a depressant.  Depression is a normal part of the grieving process. By adding a depressant to an already depressing situation, you will eventually only feel more depressed.
  2. Alcohol can initially seem to help you escape your pain but drinking might suppress your feelings, ultimately prolonging your journey through grief.
  3. Alcohol may numb your pain in the short term but the intensity of the grief process will probably increase as time goes on. And because alcohol is addicting and tolerance develops, you may end up drinking more and more of it to try and escape.
  4. By drinking in an effort to avoid the pain of loss, you may end up developing something very difficult to overcome in other ways- an addiction to alcohol.
  5. Alcohol weakens the body’s immune system. The amount of stress associated with the death of a loved one can also lower our ability to stay physically healthy and well. We do ourselves no favors by adding alcohol to our grief process.

It’s hard to know the “right” way to maneuver through the jungle of grief emotions. Keep in mind there really is no one right way to do it.  Focus on what’s healthy and helpful. Steer clear from alcohol, drugs and other unhealthy and harmful ways of coping with your pain. Seek the guidance of a grief counselor if you need help determining the best way for you to get through this difficult time.


How To Help a Grieving Friend Through the Holidays

Do you know someone who has lost a loved one?  Has a friend of yours suffered the death of an important person?  Do you feel unsure of what to say or what to do to make it better for them during this season of holiday cheer?  Here are some tips on how to support your friend through this hard time of the year:

  1. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your friend’s loss in front of them. By mentioning their loved one’s name, you let your friend know that you are thinking of that person too and that you recognize the difficult time they’re having.
  2. Don’t assume that your grieving friend wants to be left alone or removed from party invitation lists just because they’ve had a loss. Give them the option of choosing how much or how little they would like to participate in the holidays. Ask them what you can do to make the holidays easier for them.
  3. Offer to help your friend with decorating, holiday baking, shopping or gift wrapping. Grief is an energy zapper and getting holiday tasks complete may seem insurmountable when living with loss.
  4. If you’re having a party and are inviting someone who is particularly sad this season, consider having a quiet, private area where that person can step away from the crowd to collect their thoughts and feelings.
  5. Try to encourage your friend to take care of themselves. Discourage alcohol and drug use. “Having a toast in memory of the deceased” could quickly spiral into poor coping and unhealthy habits.
  6. Understand that there are no magic words to “fix” someone’s grief. When your friend gets upset in front of you, it’s okay if you don’t know what to say to them. Sometimes just sitting beside someone or offering a hug is what’s best.

Sometimes the holidays can be particularly difficult for anyone who has had a loss, regardless of how long ago their loved one died.  Certain songs, foods and traditions can trigger memories that could send anyone into a brief moment of grief emotion.  Sitting through those moments, acknowledging the thoughts and the feelings endured and then refocusing on the current reasons for celebration may help keep a positive atmosphere through the season.


San Bernardino Sorrow – What It Has To Do With You



Newton, Connecticut.  Virginia Tech.  PARIS.  And now San Bernardino?  Why do people have to endure such horrific traumas?

Do you understand the sorrow felt by the family of those innocent lives lost in San Bernardino, California?  Do you know more fully the grief of those so unexpectedly bereaved by the violent attack on December 2, 2015?  If you have recently experienced the death of a close loved one, you already cannot seem to swallow the lump in your throat or get over the stomach ache you’ve had for days and now your sadness seems completely engulfing.  You consider the gravity of the horrific trauma suffered from such senseless violence.  Your heart remains aware of your own incomprehensible loss while at the same time it breaks for what you know will be the most excruciatingly painful, emotional experience those affected by the shootings will ever endure.  How can life seem so unfair and unbearable?  How can you possibly recover from this?  How can you even endure it?

Consider these ideas to feel better:

  1. Allow yourself to acknowledge any thoughts or feelings you may have about your loss or a recent trauma such as San Bernardino.   Consider how your loss may be different or similar to the national or international tragedy. Refrain from judging yourself or critiquing whether something is right or wrong, good or bad. Just think and feel.
  2. Consider that engaging in number 1 above will only help you move forward in your grief process. As your brain continues to process your own personal loss, you may facilitate further progress by being open to allowing your thoughts and feelings free flow.
  3. Think about limiting purposeful exposure to media about these tragedies and only checking in for updates once or twice a day. Most likely you’re well aware of enough details and will not miss much if you restrict your news updates. The grief of your own loss and the intense heart-wrenching sorrow you feel for those who are probably hundreds of miles away is enough to endure.
  4. Some people feel it’s important to help those affected by recent national disasters or crises, traumas and tragedies. While physically going to directly assist after something like San Bernardino is unrealistic for most people, sending money or other kinds of assistance may help you feel less hopeless and defeated.
  5. As a general fall-back plan, you can never go wrong with doing something nurturing, caring or indulgent for yourself. Let yourself sleep in, treat yourself to a massage, soak in a bubble bath, eat the Hagen Das. Take a yoga class, meditate, call a friend and talk, go for a walk. Taking care of you is never the wrong answer.

If you’re in the process of healing from a recent loss, the shooting in San Bernardino may always be a reminder of the time in your life when you endured your own personal struggle through grief.  The association may not always feel positive but there is something powerful and connected about having personal awareness and knowledge of the shared and very human experience of grief.


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Don’t be afraid of your own grief.

You know when you’re about to get hit with a big ol’ wave of grief.  It totally sucks.  That dreadful knot in your stomach.  That sick, choking feeling in your throat.   Your face feels hot and your body starts to go numb from the toes up.  And then it hits.  You’re overwhelmed with emotions;  anger, rage, fear and sadness sweep through you.  The tears blur your eyes as you try to prevent them from falling.  Your muscles clench and you wish you could do something to stop it completely.

There is a way to stop it.  It’s not an easy way, but there is one way to make it end, to make yourself feel happy and satisfied with your life again.  Here are some things to consider while you maneuver through this painful journey:

  1. Feel the feelings. It sounds super scary, but think about allowing yourself to feel your emotions rather than always stuffing them away. The pain we feel after someone dies is natural and avoiding our feelings will only prolong the grieving process.
  2. Consider finding time to purposely bring on some grief emotions. Again, it sounds counter intuitive because you prefer to avoid emotional pain, but bringing on a good cry might actually expedite the grief process.
  3. Keep bringing up your loved one’s name in conversations with others. By talking about them and how they’ve left a mark on your life, you keep their memory as part of your present life. Learning how to preserve that memory while letting go of the pain is partly why this grief journey is a long one.
  4. Be sure to not be impatient with yourself or put any kind of time limit on how long you think it should take before you feel better. Being concerned with the length of time this is taking prevents you from being in the present moment, possibly missing the chance to feel some of the necessary feelings of grief.
  5. Understand that grieving takes a lot of energy and mental attention too. When you find yourself feeling tired or notice you can’t seem to focus for long periods of time, recognize that your loss could be a factor. Take naps and say no to overextending yourself while your’re trying to heal.

Your instinct will tell you to run fast and far from your feelings, especially the painful ones, but your best bet is to turn around and face your feelings.  They’ll eventually catch up with you anyway.



Why doesn’t anyone understand how you feel?

It’s definitely one of those things where “you had to be there” rings true.  You can’t possibly know what it’s like to lose a loved one until it happens to you.  And when you’re grieving, it can sometimes feel like no one understands what you’re going through.  People you thought would be there for you no matter what, seem to drop away.  People often say the old clichés like, “they’re in a better place,” or, “at least they’re out of their suffering.”  Sure, THEY’RE out of their suffering but you aren’t!  You’re the one living without them.  Here’s what you can do to help your friends understand how to be there for you during your grieving process:

  1. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends what you need from them. “When I cry, just give me a hug.” Or, “When I cry, don’t walk away from me.”
  2. Go ahead and mention your loved one’s name out loud in conversations. By doing this, you provide a model or example to your friends that it is okay to recall something funny or memorable about your loved one.
  3. When people do make awkward comments or fumble with what to say to you, remember that they are often well-intentioned and just don’t know what to say. They haven’t been there. Yet.
  4. Tell friends and understand for yourself that crying is okay and sometimes necessary.  Their efforts at preventing you from crying or their avoidance of mentioning your loved one only prolongs your grieving process.
  5. Allow your framily to be the for you. Don’t hide from them all the time. Take them up sometimes on their offers to support you.



When the Holidays aren’t Happy – grief through the holidays
When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be anything but merry and bright. While others around you are celebrating and full of good cheer, you may find yourself feeling just the opposite. The times of the season seem to almost assault you as you hear Christmas songs in every store and every commercial on television is about buying gifts and baking. The last thing you feel like doing is participating in holiday events. Here are some ways to approach the holidays and smoothly skate through to the New Year:
1. Remember that every special occasion, be it a holiday, a birthday, an anniversary, has 24 hours in that day. You will get through that 24-hour period just as you are this 24 hour period. One minute at a time, no faster, no slower.

2. Keep in mind that the dreadful anticipation of an upcoming family gathering or holiday party can sometimes be worse than the actual event itself. It’s all the time and energy you spend worrying about the future that could cause you more suffering and pain.

3. Consider changing tradition or altering plans. Sometimes insisting that the same holiday routines remain in place as if nothing has changed can put us under more pressure than necessary. Something has changed. Someone has died and will not be there. Changing the tradition, maybe only for one year, could be what’s most needed.

4. Allow yourself time to step away and have moments of solitude. Taking an inventory on your thoughts and feelings can help prevent you from becoming too overwhelmed during one particular moment or at a time you’re trying to be jolly with others.

5. Give yourself permission to say no. If you have to decline an invitation, it’s okay. If you have to leave a dinner party early, that is also okay.

The bottom line is, you will survive the first holiday, birthday, vacation, celebration and anniversary without your loved one. Remind yourself that your process is a normal reaction that all humans experience. You will feel better again soon.