The Rev. Sue Wintz, a Board Certified Chaplain, says that grieving through the holiday season can be heard for any person mourning the death of a loved one but there experience is different for those for whom the loss is new and for those who have been bereaved for some time.
“It’s important to realize that while there are differences in each experience,” she says, “both have the potential to become intense during the holidays.”
Writing a list of what to know when caring for grieving persons during the holidays can be endless, and many that you will find on websites, books, or other literature may be quite long. What I want to provide is a short list, the three things that both professionals, such as health care providers, co-workers, and others who know and love persons living with grief can and should keep front and center as they consider their care.
Because I am both a clinician — a board-certified professional chaplain — and a bereaved parent, I’m offering these three things with examples from each perspective.
1. It’s a Fog. For those who are dealing with acute grief, remember that they are probably living in a fog: nothing seems real because of the shock that grief causes. The holidays are probably the last thing on their mind, and if they are, there can be a sense of panic over what to do next. Simple things may become difficult. You can help by normalizing those feelings. Don’t focus on trying to “solve” the emotions or the practical questions because the fog affects one’s ability to think clearly.
For those living with longer grief, remember that the sense of holiday spirit may still have been damaged, or at least challenged. The “firsts” of everything after the death of a loved one are traumatic, as are the second, thirds, tenths… the rest of one’s life, and it’s not unusual for that fog to descend again during the holiday season. It may last for a day or two, it may go through the entire season. Don’t be quick to assume that the person is experiencing a major depressive episode that requires medical intervention — bereavement carries many of the same symptoms. (On the other hand it’s not unusual for that to happen if the person has a history of clinical depression, so if they do, you might want to explore if they have talked with their medical provider about their current symptoms).