Tag Archives: Healing

 imagesbhwzg6k1Tidings of Comfort and Joy

When you’re grieving the death of a family member or friend, you may dread the holiday season. Thoughts of social gatherings, family traditions, and obligations leave you anxious and overwhelmed. Your sadness can seem unbearable. You may wish you could skip these next two months and go straight to the routine of the next year—but you can’t. What can you do to lessen your stress and loneliness?

Holidays trigger tough emotions :

You can start by learning what emotions are normal and to be expected when facing the holidays without your loved one. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed as this holiday season approaches, that’s very normal,” advised psychologist Dr. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge, whose husband died. “You’re probably wondering how you’re going to handle this and are unsure of what course to take. I want to assure you that you can get through these holidays, and hopefully you can even find moments of joy.”

When you know what to expect, you won’t be rendered helpless as holiday events trigger unexpected emotions. Make a point to spend time talking with people who have experienced a past loss and have already been through a holiday season without their loved one. They can help you have an idea of typical emotions and emotional triggers to expect. These people can also provide much-needed comfort and support.

Creating a holiday plan will help:

Another important step in surviving the holidays is to create a healthy plan for the coming season. “Planning does help you to have a little control, even when you feel totally out of control,” said Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge. A healthy plan involves making decisions in advance about traditions, meals, time spent with others, holiday decorating, gift-giving, and commitments.

You will likely not have the energy or the interest in doing as much as you have in past years. Decide ahead of time which invitations you’ll accept, and let the host or family member know that you might leave early. Consider whether your decorating will be different this year: perhaps a smaller tree or simpler ornaments. If you cook or bake, cut back.

Make a list of every holiday tradition you can think of, from music to presents to outings. Then decide which traditions will be too difficult without your deceased loved one, which traditions you’d like to maintain, and what new traditions you can start this year.

Communicating with family and friends:

What’s also helpful in facing the holidays is to communicate your specific concerns and needs with your family and friends. People in grief are often tempted to put on a mask and pretend things are fine, especially over the holidays. “I didn’t want to put on a damper on anyone else’s joy,” shared Mardie. “So I put on a happy face and tried to be the sister, the daughter, the aunt, that everybody wanted to see. Putting on that happy face was a heavier burden than I was emotionally able to carry at the time.”

Your friends may want you to “cheer up” and “have fun,” when that’s the last thing you want. Others will avoid you because they don’t know what to say and don’t want to make you feel worse. Some family members will give you wrong advice in a misguided attempt to help. All of these people likely mean well, but will only end up hurting you if you don’t communicate what you truly need from them.

As difficult as this may be, it’s important to tell people what they can do to help and what they are doing that isn’t helping. And if you don’t have the energy or inclination to talk to people face-to-face, then write your thoughts, concerns, and needs in a letter or email. What’s important is that you are being honest and gracious in your communication.

In describing the first holiday dinner after she was widowed, Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge said, “It seemed like no one wanted to talk about my husband. I kept waiting for somebody to bring up [his name]. After a while I couldn’t stand it anymore. I excused myself and left and bawled all the way home. Later I decided maybe they were waiting for me to decide if it was okay to talk about him; maybe they were afraid if they said anything, they’d make me feel worse. From that time on when I went to an event, I found a way to let people know I wanted to talk about him and I wanted to hear their stories.”

So where can you find out what emotions to expect over the holidays, how to create a healthy plan and how to communicate with family and friends these coming weeks?

“Surviving the Holidays” seminar on November 13, 2016:

A GriefShare Surviving the Holidays seminar, to be held November 13, 2016  at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, 8th Avenue N, North Myrtle Beach, SC from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM, offers practical, actionable strategies for making it through the holiday season. At this two-hour seminar, you’ll view a video featuring advice from people in grief who’ve faced the holidays after their loss. You’ll hear insights from respected Christian counselors, pastors, and psychologists. You’ll receive a Holiday Survival Guide with practical strategies, encouraging words, helpful exercises, Q/As, and journaling ideas for daily survival through the holiday season.

At GriefShare Surviving the Holidays, you’ll meet with other grieving people who have an understanding of what you’re going through. They won’t judge you or force you to share, but will accept you where you are and will offer comfort and support. “When I went to GriefShare,” said Marion, “I realized there are different ways to grieve."  It is a confidential, compassionate and safe environment.

Your holiday season won’t be easy; your emotions may ambush you and suck you under at times. But you can choose to walk through this season in a way that honors your loved one and puts you on the path of health and healing.

To register or find out more about GriefShare Surviving the Holidays, call Fran @ 843-399-8196.

Many members of the  Y generation and Mellennials  [born 1977 to 1995]  say they do not want to be viewed in a casket after they leave this world.   They think caskets, viewings, funerals and people getting together when they are grieving is distasteful to them and not their expression of sympathy.  They also feel that attending a 'gathering' or 'luncheon' afterwards is like 'having a party' and is not something they want any part of for themselves.   They don't want anyone to see them laid out - and they don't want to have a lot of folks around them if they lose a loved one and are sorrowful  - they want to just go home - and be alone with their loss/grief.

As I was growng up, I used to dread wakes, and the traditions surrounding them. As I got older, I realized the need for the grieving family and loved ones to process the loss they were going through.  Attending the services is an expression of respect for the deceased and their loved ones.  Some people die unexpectedly and the wake is the reality that the loss did happen.  When a wake is not attended, there could be a thought or denial that it did not happen, ie, ‘I did not see it therefore I can’t believe it’.

Wakes, viewings, and services are a part of life for many Generation X members [(born 1965 to 1979] and Baby Boomers [born 1946 to 1964]  and Traditionalists or Silent Generation born 1945 or before.

The bereaved need the comfort of family, friends and acquaintances during this most grieving time. As difficult and tearful as it is, it gives the bereaved an opportunity to give needed expression to release the grief that most of us feel at these times in order to heal and accept their loss.

it is your presence that will be remembered and not your words.   Acts of comforting via touch, hugs, or listening help heal the loss feelings – which could be overwhelming into a depression if they are not expressed – and your presence may foster acceptance and healing.

In today's culture,  wake or viewing times have been shortened to sometimes to just one day [it used to be 3 days followed by the funeral the next day [or fourth day].  It may be a drain on a family who may have not slept in days or experience long travel times or accommodations  for out-of-time relatives. There are closed caskets, cremations and different memorials for the deceased.  Wakes are a part of a person’s life just as baptisms or weddings are.  Attending Services are acts of respect for the deceased and their loved ones.   Sometimes there are quips and laughter in remembrances of the deceased and is not meant disrespectfully but in remembering and cherishing memories of him or her.

There are lunches after the cemetery or interment....It’s closure.   It is better to be with people who knew and loved the person who died than to go home right after the cemetery – alone with a heavy heart.  It reconnects people who have lost touch. Shared grief will share the loss for all.   Wake viewings and funerals serve this purpose.

If you are a faith person, the viewing and church services are a celebration of a new life in eternity with God.  Many churches focus on this positive affirmation instead of the negative of loss. If you believe in the resurrection of the dead, then the wake is a celebration of their life here on earth and the new life they are entering.

Marie Coppola July 2017


Some of us have the gift or talent to express sympathy easily to others.  Gestures and words are expertly expressed and people are comforted.

Many others dread seeing the survivor(s) at a viewing or even for the first time after a death occurs.  They feel awkward, not knowing quite what to say in offering condolences. It is difficult and sometimes emotional  to see someone who is in grief and it can makes us feel uncomfortable especially when we are not sure of what to do or say.

I used to feel that way until I experienced grief myself and some time afterwards, joined a bereavement group at our church.  At these meetings, we would have a speaker's presentation on how to adjust to grief or sometimes have individuals express their personal experiences.  Comfort, presence and listening are key.

You may find yourself in a bereavement situationif you ever have to comfort someone who has a death in their family; and/or if you desire or are asked to help others work their way through grief. Here are ten ways to offer condolences or to help someone heal:

•    You might say, "I'm sorry"; or "I'm sorry for your loss", or say a kind word about the    deceased . . . .

When you don't know what to say, say 'nothing'. This was the number 1 rule in bereavement training.  There's not much you can say anyway to relieve their loss.   Let them talk and get their feelings and emotions expressed.  Your presence, your caring and your listening is balm to a griever.  If you are a hugger, this is a good time to give a hug or hold their hand or put your arm around their shoulder.   Touching is healing.   If they aren't touchers, you'll know;  back off and let them set the pace.

•    never say  'it's for the best' or 'they're in a better place' or 'they've lived a long life' . . . .

We learned that the bereaved are grieving for a lost loved one and they do not think it was for the best - even if the beloved was ill.  They want them back on earth and don't want to know they are in a better place.   If it is an elderly person who died, they don't want to hear 'he lived a long life' -- they want to keep a loved one as long as they can and it's never long enough.

•    never say it was God's will for them . . . .

We don't know what God's will was for them. God doesn't plan accidents or cause cancer. Death is a life event that will happen to everyone.  To say that God willed it, isn't going to comfort anyone.  It may even cause anger at God and faith is needed more than ever when someone you love dies. Don't say it was God's will to a couple who has lost a child either in stillbirth or a miscarriage.  A couple who may have finally gotten pregnant after trying a long time, and have it end in miscarriage or a stillbirth after nine months will feel the loss tremendously and it is not comforting to say it is God's will or it is for the best. It certainly is not for them.  It's a devastating loss.

•    encourage them to join a support group or or seek someone who has experienced a similar event . . . .

Perhaps you can suggest they join a support group.  There are many kinds of support groups available through churches or the newspapers.  Losing Someone, Living Alone, Widow/Widower's seminars offer multiple support groups. People gain strength when they know someone else went through what they did and survived.  Although 'misery loves company' is a cliche - it has truth to it.  You may even mail or drop off announcements of such groups.

•    encourage him or her to speak about their loss and emotions with someone . . . .

Sometimes a family or close friend may not be the best choice for grievers to talk to;  they may be experiencing grief themselves.  It is not uncommon for people to have purged their grief with a stranger they hardly knew.   If they have trouble verbally expressing themselves, you may suggest writing a letter to the deceased telling them things they might have said or didn't say; or any regrets they have.

•    visit or stop by occasionally even for a few minutes . . . .

It is uplifting for them if you visit bereaved persons, especially widows or widowers, who now spend time alone.  Bring a small gift, even a book of additional support  or a magazine on bereavement.   They will know they are not alone; others are going through similar losses.   And they will enjoy the break.

•    get them out of the house and go for a walk . . . .

The bereaved sometimes get motionless in their grief and stay at home.   Offer to go for a walk with her - walking is good for depression and releases endorphins, a group of chemicals produced in the brain that reduce pain and improve mood.  It might allow her to open up to release some pent up feelings while walking and feeling companionship.  Remember - caring, presence and espcially listening.

•    calendar and note the birthday and anniversary dates of the deceased . . . .

Their survivors feel the loss especially on these dates and may experience setbacks in their healing.    Remember to call them with an uplifting call those days.  You don't have to mention the date, but, if they do, give them reassurance or if in person, give them a hug. Holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukah, etc., are very hard for the survivors, especially if it was a person who lived with them.   Try to include them or their family  in some way, either by phone, mail or in person to let them know they are being thought of.  Love is always welcome.

•    suggest a physical with a physician and/or a visit to a therapist if the survivor is having difficulty adjusting and seems to be backsliding more than moving forward . . . .

Unresolved grief can cause depression or even suicidal tendencies.   If you notice during visiting that the survivor seems distracted, unkempt, depressed or not themselves, be a friend and tell a family member or gently suggest if you could take them to see a doctor.

•    offer to take them to church . . . .

Since death usually raises spiritual issues, and people are either strengthened in their faith or are turned off and angry at God, offer to join them in prayer services at your church or their place of worship.  You may offer to read Scripture or passages in the Bible together.   If you share faith with them, they may share their sorrow with God, the Great Comforter.   Let it be their choice.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.   Matthew 5:4

© Marie Coppola  Revised December 2012