The Best of Times, Worst of Times: Grief & Holidays

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December 10, 2013


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This post is available in: Spanish

In September, Tobi Ash looked at her calendar and faced her first year of holidays without her father, Chaim Grosz, who recently passed away.

Such losses can leave you feeling bereft or bitter. But with good deeds, Ms. Ash honored her father’s memory by donating food and honey (a traditional symbol of happiness for the Jewish New Year) to families in need. What’s more, before Thanksgiving, she donated her nursing skills to care for Ethiopian children.

“Helping is healing, especially when we’re faced with the loss of a loved one during the holidays,” says Reverend Guillermo Escalona, a Board-certified hospital chaplain at Baptist Health.

The chaplain is part of a free program on Wednesday, Dec. 11, about grief and the holidays. (Details below.)  His top tips: Self-care, communications and realistic expectations can help you through the holiday season when you are dealing with major losses. Even without devastating events, holidays are packaged with extra pressure. For celebrants of Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or New Years, holiday stress can be an equal opportunity health problem.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to bring light in to the season, Rev. Escalona says.

Know yourself: Everyone has limits, and it’s important to know how much you can do during the holidays. “You are the expert about what you can handle,” Rev. Escalona says. Set realistic expectations. Think twice about hosting the annual holiday dinner for your extended family. Just remember to give yourself permission to say no or to ask for help, Rev. Escalona says.

Make a donation: By broadening your focus and perspective, your charitable deeds can give you the gift of extra comfort and peace. Consider sponsoring holiday celebrations for those in need or volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Find new territory: Memories from past holidays can be overwhelming when you are grieving. Consider minor or major changes to celebration plans. Small changes include new times or locations for gift exchanges or the holiday dinner. Major changes may include visiting out-of-town relatives or taking a vacation. “So many sights, sounds and aromas of usual places may be a constant reminder of loss,” Rev. Escalona says.”Make changes in a way that works for you.”

Integrate memories: Some mourners take comfort in familiarity, and the holidays can be an opportunity to showcase seasonal music, food and activities that the loved one enjoyed.

Communicate: Friends and family may be confused about what to say or do for you during your time of loss. Help them out by expressing how much space, time and conversation you need. Let your friends and loved ones know how they can help you best.

“There’s no right or wrong way of handling the holidays during a period of grief,” Rev. Escalona says.

And finally, don’t be afraid to have fun during the season. “Laughter and joy are not disrespectful. Joy can be healing,” Rev. Escalona says. “We can still enjoy the season with memories and different activities that make the loved one present. In a very real sense, that love never ends.”

Just ask Tobi Ash. Her acts of kindness in her father’s memory provide her with extra light on holidays and every day.

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Rev. Guillermo Escalona is featured in a free Baptist Health program, Holidays Are Tough: Coping With the Loss of Loved Ones, Dec. 11, 7 p.m., at Baptist Medical Plaza at Westchester. Reservations are required. Email Programs@BaptistHealth.net or call 786-596-3812.

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