Grief: taking one step at a time
By KIM LOCCISANO
For The Times Leader
“It just doesn’t feel like it’s the holiday season. I can’t seem to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy having fun with my friends and family like everyone else does. I don’t get it: why can’t I enjoy life like I used to before things changed. We used to have so much fun doing things together this time of year. Since things changed it’s hard to even feel like I want to get out of bed, much less go out of the house or to a party or even write and send cards.
“Life was good the way it was before; I don’t know why everything had to change.”
Feelings of loss and uncertainty in our daily lives are easily fueled by any number of changes which can manifest as grief, depression, anger and the like.
These are times when caring friends and family need to take the time, and find the courage to step forward and extend a hand of friendship, and without strings or unnecessary expectations attached.
Grief is one of those emotions just about everyone can expect to experience at some point in life. There is nothing kind, gentle or reassuring about experiencing grief, but it is a particularly difficult emotion to deal successfully with during or around the annual holiday season.
It is not friendly, nor pleasant, but it is a very real emotion, one which millions of Americans face on a daily basis, and most are essentially unprepared to do battle alone with this foe.
Grief can be a debilitating emotion to deal with, no matter your age or resources, according to Wesley Howsare, the clinical director of Crossroads Counseling Services.
Allowing a sense of grief to move an individual with addictions or who is experiencing bouts of depression to a very isolated or “disconnected” state of mind is a path which should be considered as being completely headed in the wrong direction, he said.
“If you see someone you care about getting focused on feelings of grief it is a good idea to let them know – to reassure them – there are people immediately around them who are ready to help keep them from emotionally disconnecting,” offered Howsare.
“If you know someone you care about will likely be dealing with some difficult issues at and around the holiday season the act of placing a simple phone call can make a big and very positive impact on that individual’s emotional health,” said Crossroads’ Clinical Director.
Setting realistic very personal expectations for those dealing with grief and depression during the holiday season can prove a very valuable tool when it comes to this type of very personalized effort to reduce, rather than increase a person’s stress level, he said.
“If a person has had to deal recently with a major loss in their life they may be particularly vulnerable to difficulties that can come when experiencing feelings of grief intensified by the holiday season,” he shared.
Taking the time to make a simple phone call, just to let someone know you are thinking of them is something good to do, said Howsare.
“It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort on your part to make that extra connection to a person you know is likely to be in additional pain because of their recent loss,” he offered.
“Particularly if a person’s grief is founded in the death or loss of someone they care deeply for there is generally no reason not to mention that individual – even by name in conversation. It can be a comfort to be able to speak about the person directly,” said Howsare. “Don’t be afraid to tell them you are thinking of them because of their difficult loss.
“Realize an individual who is experiencing a holiday season for the first time after the loss of a loved one may not find they are comfortable accepting invitations to parties or dinners. If it is at all possible, don’t let them be alone,” shared Howsare. “Be persistent in making offers to take them on a drive, to go on a walk with them, to have them come along while you go to the grocery store or run everyday errands. Time spent getting a person up and moving in a positive end productive direction who might otherwise find they are weighed down by grief or depression will be a good investment for both of you.”
Grief and depression can all too easily serve to almost completely isolate a person; even those of the most social nature can fall victim to this circumstance, offered both Howsare and Reverend Bill Webster of Grace Presbyterian Church in Martins Ferry.
“Local church communities often have lots of ways to reach out to those finding themselves becoming isolated by feelings of grief or depression as they learn to find their way through daily life without the company of the person they have recently lost,” offered Webster. “Knowing there are people just a phone call away – or a neighbor down the street – who understands your loss and can help a person begin to regain their strength and confidence will help them begin to move forward again, emotionally and spiritually.”
Grief, especially if it goes unacknowledged or unaddressed, can fuel a return to destructive habits that come with depression and addictions, and which can greatly weaken efforts designed to help a person stay focused on recovery and rehabilitation programs teaching them skills needed to help get through such unusually difficult periods on a more positive track.
Many Americans find the annual holiday season to be more of a time to expect emotional burdens to increase than it is a time when joy for the season washes over all things and everyone is guaranteed several weeks of emotional downtime.
“People need to be realistic and recognize triggers that can decrease their ability to be happy and healthy and can worsen addictions they might have developed,” shared Howsare.
Grief is painful, and can be a complex matter to understand, but experts are increasingly lining up behind the school of thought that openly discussing the grieving process and sharing ideas, and is something understood by children and adults alike.
Each person has their own way of grieving, and of viewing details tied to a person’s death, the loss of a friend, beloved pet, a job, a position in the community, say both Howser and Webster.
Too often adults fail to see the deep impact losses can have on children, which can lead to devastating and even deadly consequences.
Through local church groups young people impacted by a loss can find a safe environment in which to begin reconnecting with peers and finding positive ways to make new friends, which can help with the healing part of moving through grief, according to Webster.
The pressures that often come with a holiday season can all too quickly become overwhelming when young children and teens find it easier to become less social as the result of an emotional loss such as a move to another community, a divorce, or the death of someone they are close to, reiterated Howsare.
Adults who realize teens are changing habits and friends dramatically – and not in a positive way – and at a point when they are grieving – should increase their connection to them as they may well be at increased risk of making dangerous and negative choices in their daily life largely because of their loss and the increased expectations that come with the holiday season.
Change happens whether we want it to or not and whether we welcome it or not.
How such change impacts an individual’s life, and even those around them, is a very personal thing and it is often something friends, family, co-workers, neighbors can help support simply by being a positive influence in the life of the person they care about.
Loccisano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org