"Merry Christmas Dad! Coping with Grief During the Holiday Season"
“Merry Christmas, Dad! Coping with Grief in the Holiday Season”
By: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS
I doubt if this article will be very long in comparison to most that I write. The topic is far too difficult for me to “go there” for too long. The truth is that, once again, I must deal with mourning my father through the holiday season.
One would think that grieving would eventually dissipate; that three years after the death of my dad, I could just focus my attention on Christmas without having to feel the pangs of hurt in my heart…without the gnawing sensation left in the void of my heart where my dad’s presence occupied while he was on this earth. Yet, 2006 seems like so long ago….and just yesterday. So, Christmas is three days away and my thoughts drift towards the man who raised me.
No, my sorrow has not ended. From talking to those who have lost loved ones before me, I’m not sure it will ever fully disappear. I doubt if I will ever feel the same as before he passed away. His memory is like a specter that haunts me, especially during those special times of the year like Father’s Day, Fourth of July (his birthday), and, yes, Christmas. It doesn’t take much to trigger my longing to be with him once more; an Andy Griffith episode, any movie about father/son interaction, hearing a song that he liked………even cold weather reminds me of him, though I’m not sure why. The fact is that tears can well up in my eyes at a moment’s notice. I’m not really the same man as I was before December of 2006.
So, for those of you who have lost loved ones this year…..please know that I’m truly sorry. Accept my absolute heartfelt empathy to your situation. My heart hurts for you. I hope you will humbly allow me to offer some advice as you experience grief over this holiday season and in the days to come:
· Let yourself experience your emotions: Don’t fight back your feelings. Don’t avoid the sadness. Please fight the urge to make yourself so busy that you just bury all that you are experiencing. When you feel emotion welling up inside you, RUN TOWARDS IT. If you need to cry, then cry. Let yourself be angry if you feel angry. If you remember something funny about your loved one, laugh. Avoiding all these emotions will not help you move forward. It just delays your ability to move forward. So, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. It will pass and you will have more freedom to deal with what is going on around you. Plus, allowing yourself to genuinely “feel” is also a way that you are allowing yourself to “remember” that person…and remembering keeps their legacy alive.
· Adopt ways or traditions that keep the memory alive: There are so many ways you can honor the memory of your loved one. You can set aside a special time with family to look through photo albums or scrapbooks that are filled with memories of this person. You can write that person a letter, tie it to a helium balloon and launch it with a kiss (my family and I do this for my dad often), you can sit around and reminisce with other people who knew your loved one. You can make sure there are plenty of pictures and stories around about this person so that their memory and legacy lives on.
· Don’t pretend all is well: This ties in to the first suggestion but I just want to reiterate it. When we lose someone dear to us, all is NOT well. It’s healthy to acknowledge that even as we continue on with life.
· Seek out help to deal with it all: Whether it is your best friend, a pastor you trust, or a professional counselor, look for someone who can help you process through the mourning and grieving process. It’s not an easy journey and having someone for support can only help.
Finally, just know that there are thousands of others who are also grieving this holiday season. You are not alone. It is so unfortunate that death is truly a part of life. It’s painful. It’s difficult. It’s something we must all face. I pray that you let yourself face your grief this holiday season. Face it with those you trust. Face it honestly. And, believe it or not, those sad memories can actually add to the sacredness of this Christmas season.
All my best……..may God bless you through the holidays and beyond.
Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org
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