Beat the holiday blues if a loved one is gone

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By Debra Hart

As the holiday decorations begin to twinkle, not everyone feels merry.

The holiday season can be difficult for those who have lost a loved one during the past year or have family away in the military.

The holiday season is tough for people who are missing a spouse with whom they have built time-honored traditions. A family that has lost a child will also find the holidays particularly hard because children’s folklore permeates so much of the jolly festivities.

Grant H. Taylor, Ph.D., of Pleasant Grove, believes those suffering the loss of a family member should avoid isolation and attempt to surround themselves with friends and relatives.

“Make sure you are not alone, because isolation is what intensifies the feelings of depression,” Taylor says.

For those without relatives nearby, he suggests charitable service to those in need (i.e., opening your home to foreign exchange students or serving meals at a homeless shelter) to avoid isolation.

Here are a few other hints for beating the blues during the holidays: expect to have some “bah humbug” days, call a timeout for yourself to blow off steam, spend the holidays however you want, start some new traditions, and give yourself permission to laugh and have fun.

Holiday grief is unpredictable. If you suddenly feel overwhelmed, it is OK to change your plans. Allow yourself to take some private time to relax.

Friends and family will not be able to take the pain away. However, they can offer help, support or a listening ear. Be sure to include close family and friends in your grieving and be honest about your healing progress.

Experts also suggest making a special flower arrangement for the cemetery, donating to a charity or placing flowers in your church dedicated “in memory of . . . ,” planting a special tree or flower, keeping a journal or writing a poem. It is important to recognize your emotions and find an outlet to express them.

Arlene Combs, a school counselor at Lindon Elementary, believes people who have lost a loved one are often afraid to talk about the death. She feels “remembering the loved one is a wonderful thing” and all efforts should be made to “keep the memory of the person alive in a happy and loving way.”

Loved ones should expect those who have experienced a loss to be a little sad during the holidays.

“Don’t hesitate to acknowledge their feelings and validate that their feelings are appropriate and worthwhile,” Combs says.

Geret N. Giles, Ph.D., of Child & Family Psychology in Orem, offers these suggestions for helping military families deal with the absence of loved ones during the holidays: Share favorite memories of that person, talk about what they would be doing if they were home and what they are doing where they are deployed, set a place at the holiday table to honor the absent person, arrange in advance to have a special letter from the absent one to read aloud on the holiday and write a letter in return that will arrive in time for their holiday.

“Grieving is natural and an indication that the relationship with the absent person is significant,” Giles says.

Eagle Mountain’s Bob Hill was recently deployed overseas with the Utah National Guard, leaving his wife, Alicia, behind.

“My biggest mistake was not accepting help from friends and family,” Alicia says. “Keeping busy and keeping my daughters involved with everything having to do with my husband was the way I got through the difficult times.”

For the holidays, Alicia suggests trying a new tradition.

Taylor emphasizes there is a difference between simply feeling down and blue, and the intensity of a clinical depression. Those experiencing a clinical depression should seek professional intervention.

Debra Hart is a freelance writer living in Eagle Mountain

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