The holiday season is bells, songs and laughter to many. Celebrations like Christmas, Hannuaka, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, and many more are a time for families to get together and share fun and frivolity.
However, for many, the holidays are not a joyous time because they are missing family members, have experienced a death or tragedy, are under stress at work or have financial weight.
Connie Munsen, a retired nurse, a volunteer for more than 30 years and a support facilitator for Prince Rupert and District Hospice Society (PRDHS) validates how people may not feel up to the holidays. She said it is perfectly OK to feel not in the spirit of things.
“This holiday season, those who are grieving the loss of a family member or friend may, instead of feeling joy and excitement, be experiencing a time of great sadness,” she said. “…Whether it’s the first holiday season or many years following a loss, holidays seem to heighten the many emotions of grief.”
There are steps that can help us get through the holidays, she said.
Acknowledging your feelings is the first step. Munsen suggests giving yourself space, time and permission to experience the many different emotions. Talking about grief and feelings with someone who is supportive, understands and will not pass judgment is a good foot forward.
“Grief takes a lot of energy, so beware of your physical and psychological limits. it is possible to feel joy and grief at the same time. Allow those moments of joy without feelings of guilt. Be kind and gentle to yourself.”
Planning ahead and setting boundaries may be beneficial steps to take.
“When you get to planning ahead, it’s important just to do what feels right for you at this time. Maybe there are family traditions that you want to partake in and maybe there are new traditions that you want to start with — it presents an opportunity for you to do that.”
While setting boundaries is a good thing to do, the hospice facilitator said, it is important not to isolate yourself entirely.
“Give yourself permission to choose which events to attend and you may wish to limit your time at these events. Make sure you have a plan to leave if you feel overwhelmed.”
“Usually, the build-up to the event is worse than the actual date. So people are so dreading the day, but then when the day gets there, as long as they prepare and plan ahead and set boundaries, it’s manageable.”
Munsen said a new strategy she has recently learned is the 60 per cent rule. Basically, when you have reached just over half of what you can handle in a social setting, wrap it up and leave.
“Recognize it’s time for me to go home now and do not allow the pressure from well-intentioned family and friends to talk you into attending all these things,” she said. Holiday events and get-togethers are exhausting on a regular day, but when one is grieving or not feeling the holiday, a person’s energy is depleted more quickly.
“Honour your loved one, talk about the person who died, maybe light a candle in their memory, set a place at the table on Christmas Day, hang an ornament with a picture on the tree,” Munsen said, adding listening to music or have people write a memory of the loved one or share a favourite moment is special for some.
Grief affects everyone differently, the hospice facilitator said.
“Reach out to family and friends. Attend a grief support group, in person or online. And especially seek professional support if you find yourself really struggling.”
Munsen said while PRDHS is not a counselling service or mental health professional, they are trained volunteers. They do not offer therapy, but they do offer support and have several opportunities for sharing grief coming up throughout the season, as well as one-on-one phone support.
“Celebrate a Life” trees are located on the lower level of Rupert Square Mall, where the public is invited to write a memory message, place it on the tree and turn on a light in the reflection of their lost loved one. The messages are then kept for a springtime remembrance event.
Hospice has partnered with the First United Church for the annual Blue Christmas service, where those not feeling too much festiveness can attend a quiet service of seasonal reflection on Dec. 22 at 7 pm.
“The service honour those in our community who have lost a loved one lost a job or relationship, or are suffering health issues,” Munsen said.
Also, the twice-annual nine-week Journey Through Grief program will be starting in the spring, and the next drop-in grief support group will be held on Jan 14. (Saturday) at 2 p.m. Registration is required.
“Please phone the hospice office at 250 622 6204 or cell 778 884 0811. Check out our Facebook page PrinceRupertDistrictHospicesociety, the website princeruperthospice.org or email email@example.com,” Munsen said.
Munsen said one of her favourite quotes for the holidays is from Alan D. Wolfelt, “Best wishes to you during the holiday season. Keep each holiday as a reminder of all the things you shared with the person you loved who has died. The remembering is part of the healing.”
K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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