Holiday Season and Loss

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  • September 2, 2014

Perhaps no issue is more complex than that of dealing with a loss. The death of a loved one can take years to work through. Other losses such as divorce can be equally difficult. The additional problem with a divorce is that a person is often unsure when the loss really begins. Is it when the break-up first happens? When the divorce becomes official? When can the split become final if children are involved?

Once, in speaking to a group in Edmonton I asked the audience how long they thought it took to get over a loss. I will always remember the timid, yet honest, response made by a person from the back of the room, “Well, it has been about five years and I think I am half way through it”. I hope for those of you who have faced losses, your progress is somewhat faster than the person in the example.

One of the key points about losses is that there is no “right way” to get through them. There are many different ways to cope with losses over the holiday season, a season that television, advertising and experience tells us is one to share with family and friends.

Plan Ahead. One way of coping with days that you know will be difficult is to plan a day that is busy, allowing minimal time to “stop and think”. Excellent activates can include doing things for others, especially those less fortunate.

Do Nothing. Sometimes, it is equally important to just allow yourself to grieve. While many “don’t want to be a burden on family or friends”, those people who care about you want to help, and will often feel better being with you than thinking you are by yourself. They don’t have to do anything to make your grief go away, simply being there for you is one of the best gifts they could give.

Write a Letter. An excellent activity to cope with losses is called “Write-Read-Burn”. You can actually write to the person you have lost (through death or break-up). Tell the person how you feel, how their absence has affected you and give the letter an ending. Read the letter over to yourself and then take it outside somewhere safe and burn it.

Make a Gift. A fourth way to cope with losses, especially death, around the holidays, is to make gifts of pictures, collectibles or other items to others who are close to the person who has died. Sharing a life history or photo album helps bring back the good memories, as often following a loss we can become preoccupied with circumstances surrounding the death, pushing aside the happier times.

Stephen Carter, Ph. D