After a loved one dies, the following year is filled with anniversaries and holidays—family celebrations with an important person missing. The holiday season can be a particularly emotional time for someone who is grieving.
It is important to remember that not everyone deals with loss in the same way.
“There are specific stages of grief, with the final stage consisting of the reinvestment of one’s energies into new situations and new relationships,” says Diane Dennis, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., assistant professor, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. “The only way to deal with grief is to go through it; otherwise the unresolved feelings emerge in unsuspecting ways. Grief can be very painful, messy, unpredictable, and energy depleting. If you have not reached some level of acceptance, there still is some grieving to be done.”
How long to grieve?
The length of the grieving process varies, depending on the relationship. According to Dennis, our culture does not allow enough time for grief. Employees are often expected to return to work in a matter of days. The process of grief is dependent on many factors and often takes much longer than the bereaved, his or her family, the employer, and co-workers expect.
While some may find relief in getting back into a routine, feelings about the deceased should not be repressed. Rather than ignore strong emotions, one should confront them by developing ways to grieve.
“It is often helpful to remind ourselves of the connections to those we loved and who are no longer here to share our lives. Families often think of their own meaningful way they can say ‘we honor you’ and ‘we miss you.’ Some people decide to plant a flower or tree or make a donation to the deceased’s favorite organization. Also, planning a special celebration on an anniversary date to remember the connection may be helpful,” Dennis explains.
Helping children grieve
Children are not immune to the strong emotions of losing a loved one.
“It is important to help the child understand the loss in age-appropriate terms. If we don’t help them find meaning in the loss and help them develop a reality-based understanding, children tend to create their own story about the loss. It is important that their understanding is based in reality and not based on magical thinking. It is also important to make sure the child does not in some way believe that the loss is his or her fault,” Dennis says.
Attending a bereavement group is a useful way of finding comfort. Dennis recommends a local church or organization such as hospice.
At his or her own pace, the bereaved will eventually reinvest energy in life and relationships.
“As the fog lifts and the sunshine returns, the bereaved find that the experience was transformative in providing a different sort of inner strength and a connection that can never be lost,” Dennis says.