Holidays Can Trigger Periods of Gloom

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

When we think of holidays, we think of fun, gifts, vacations, family reunions, and friends and relatives spending time together. 

However, just as the sweetest songs are fraught with sadness, and the greatest pleasures are interspersed with pain, so the holidays get-togethers stand face to face with separations. 

Holidays also happen to be the time of missing the loved ones who are no longer with us. This includes the survivors of the death of the loved ones but also those who have experienced loss through divorce or separation.

 Father's Day, Mother's Day, birthdays, marriage anniversaries, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, along with the customary celebrations, are critical days for those who still have not gotten over the sting of their loss. 

For those, who are still asking why it happened, when reference comes of the lost person, whether recently, or a time ago, tears are not far from their eyes, . Time and speed of healing is relative. At festivities and celebrations, when memories are intensified and sadness grips inside, we feel acutely the contrast between within and without and we are caught in a dilemma. 

A griever tries to hide it from others, lest it embarrasses them or ruin the festive occasion for them. Relatives and friends, though aware of the griever's plight, don't want to broach the subject, lest bringing it out in to the open and paying attention to grief might make it worse. A lot of people erroneously think that reminiscing about the deceased is indulgence about the past, makes one morbid, and leads to brooding and rumination. They believe one should get on with one's life as early as possible. But you know memories are the tools to work through the grief. Let the griever reminisce. Don't be afraid of the griever getting stuck in the grief and the past. People who come for grief counseling, complain that they can't talk to their family members because the latter have expressed directly or indirectly to not talk about it. 

I believe many wouldn't have needed to come to a counselor, had they been able to share their memories, longings, and sorrows with their family and friends. Remembering and sharing of the memories with persons who were connected with the bereaved are the ways in which the bereaved comes to terms with the feeling of loss. "  

The feeling of loss is the flip side of feeling of attachment. If I am attached to someone, I am bound to feel the loss if I lose that person. I cannot escape it. 

If I love someone and lose that person, I am going to hurt in proportion to my degree of love I had for that person. I should not be expected to be well controlled, calm, and composed at the funeral, and if I am a healthy person, I need not be drugged to anesthetize me against the feeling of loss. Granted. 

But the question is how much and how long the hurting is a part of normal grieving? When do we say pain is not helping the healing process? Time-wise, mental health professionals use the criteria of two months, that is, that if a person is actively grieving for more than two months after the occurrence of the loss, then it is a complicated grief. A complicated grief may require professional help along with the help from family, friends, and relatives.

 Furthermore, if severe depression continues for more than two weeks, at any time, before, or at any point after the experience of loss, the person may need professional help. If a bereaved demonstrates any behavior that is life threatening, such as giving up eating or unable to eat, take the bereaved right away to a clinic. 

A lot of times, people shy away from visiting or contacting a survivor, because they don't want to impose themselves on that person in bereavement or they think, "I wouldn't know what to say." 

Concerns about imposition may run like this, "I don't want to embarrass them or, they need some personal space at a time like this. They may not want me to be too personal. " If we are attentive to the needs of the bereaved, we can pick up the cues when we are imposing yourself. We don't have to say anything profound or real smart. Most helpful thing is readiness and willingness to listen whatever the bereaved wants to share. So it's not saying, it is listening that is required on our part. 

As regards saying something, saying, "I am sorry," is enough. Don't overdo the cheering up act. Don't change the topic or use distraction to lighten up the occasion. 

A few people drink more during the holidays, as they are overloaded with feelings. It's not helpful. For bereavers, doing something in memory of the person, such as framing a picture, weaving a quilt, writing an announcement in the paper, or completing a project started or wished by the bereaved, visiting, and inviting friends, families, and relatives are some of the ways to cope with the holidays.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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