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When Holiday Time Isn't So Merry: Therapist
offers tips for Coping with Grief
Newswise, December 2010 — While many
see the holidays as a happy and festive
time, the season can be one of the most
difficult times of the year for people
grieving for a recently lost loved one or
struggling with depression.
It's not unusual to have an increase in the
number of people experiencing some form of
depression during the holiday season, said
Stephanie Wick, a Kansas State University
instructor in family studies and human
services and a licensed marriage and family
In addition to the holidays, the winter days
are shorter, the weather is colder, and
people spend more time indoors -- all of
which can contribute to a difficult time of
The holidays also are perceived as a joyful
time filled with family, tradition, making
memories and enjoying each other's company,
"When you've lost a loved one and you're
coming up on the holiday season, there's a
giant void," Wick said.
"It's a reminder that all these other
families are celebrating this time together
and enjoying their time together, but we've
lost this person. We can't enjoy this time
because we're not complete, we're not
Wick says there are ways for people
grieving, along with their friends and
relatives, to face the holidays during a
Every person goes through grief differently,
Wick said, and will approach the holidays in
"I think one of the most important things to
do as an outsider watching a person who is
grieving is to respect their healing
process," Wick said.
"If they decide they don't want to put up a
Christmas tree, have a meal or open
presents, as an outsider it's important to
respect that because it's necessary for that
person or that family's process of trying to
get through this holiday season."
Sometimes simply engaging in conversations
about the person who died can help the
grieving process, if the grieving person is
willing to talk. Telling funny stories or
sharing memories can be a way to keep the
person's memory alive.
But there are certain behaviors a grieving
person can exhibit that might be signals for
concern, Wick said. Such behaviors can
include any indication of major depression
with no effort to reach out for help;
refusing any help that is offered; or any
type of suicidal thoughts or plans.
After someone has died it can be very
difficult for a family to resume old holiday
traditions. Wick suggests creating new
traditions instead of trying to continue old
ones during a time of grief.
"Families can do something they haven't done
before or go somewhere else for the
holidays," Wick said. "It's a way of marking
the new phase, but also preserving the old
traditions and the memory of those
traditions with the person who has died."
It's important to remember that the grieving
process takes time, Wick said.
"It gets easier with time," she said. "The
first holiday is the hardest. For many
people it's a process of surviving, just
getting through one holiday at a time."