Grief can mar holiday season
This holiday season marks a milestone for Deborah Woodruff of South Lake Tahoe. It’s the first time she’s summoned up the courage to hang ornaments made by her daughter Paula, who died more than two years ago.
At age 20, Paula died from a sudden heart-related illness in Salinas, Calif. Woodruff still feels the guilt of not being there for her daughter.
“If you let it, it will take over your life,” she said.
Christmas is especially difficult for those suffering the loss of a loved one.
“The holidays are still hard,” Woodruff said.
She remembers being numb during the first Christmas following Paula’s death that June, she said. She put up the tree anyway for the sake of her grandson, Brandon, whom she took into her home when Paula died.
She was living her life in a mechanical mode every day, just trying to deal with her aching loss, she said. When Sept. 11 entered the picture, her grief was accentuated.
“It’s very emotional for you because it brings them back,” she said.
Other triggers include hearing songs Paula loved, and finding cards she wrote and pictures of her daughter that crop up around the house.
She sought refuge in a support group with the local chapter of Compassionate Friends, a national self-help organization that supports bereaved parents and family members. She’s the new leader.
“When Paula first died, I felt so alone. My family was afraid they’d say the wrong thing, so they stayed away,” she said.
According to grief experts, this is a common reaction among loved ones.
“When you’re grieving, people think you should get over it quickly,” said Cecelia Larson, whose husband died from cancer two years ago.
During her first Christmas without him, the mother of six paused at putting the tree in its usual spot — where his hospital bed sat.
Larson used Barton Hospice to get through the ordeal.
“He was the type who didn’t want to be a burden to the family. But I knew he wanted to be home,” she said.
To further feel his love and warmth, she will replace the tree this year with a chair in that spot, so she can sit close to where he spent his last days.
“During the holidays, there are expectations of how happy we should be,” said Barton Hospice Social Worker Arlene Hayward, who organizes the unit’s grief support group. It meets at 2 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday of the month at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center.
Barton Hospice also plans to start a grief support group in Carson Valley.
If one doesn’t fit the mold of happiness, it can make life difficult.
When people who mean well suggest a grieving loved one “just keep busy,” it only delays the grief, Hayward said.
“Grief has to be gone through, not gone around,” Barton Hospice Supervisor Julie Grimes said. She recommends family and friends do something in honor of the person who died. It may mean buying a gift for that person, then donating it to a community organization.
The Hospice Foundation of America offers the following tips for dealing with grief over the holidays:
n Plan ahead, so you don’t add to the stress.
n Recognize that the holidays might not be the same. You may have disappointments.
n Be careful not to isolate yourself.
n Avoid additional stress.
n Expect the holidays to affect other family members.
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