There is no sugar coating the fact that the holidays can be a time of confusion and pain for parents who are suffering the loss of a child. With family gathering and memories being shared, it can be hard to untangle yourself from the natural pangs of grief. Global Genes was able to speak with Beth Creel, PhD. Certified Grief Recovery Counselor to ask: how can parents cope with a loss during the holiday season?
Global Genes: What advice do you have for families experiencing their first holiday after the loss of a child?
Beth Creel, Grief Counselor: The first year of a death is the most challenging in all areas. There is no wrong way to experience grief, the feelings are an expression of sorrow, pain and confusion.
During the holiday, these emotions many times are much worse than non-holiday time. Not only is there the deepest pain and sadness but there is also guilt about enjoying the holidays for children that have survived. My advice is to get through the days with as much energy as you can; this does not mean that you need more energy just use your reserve that you have available.
Be respectful of the day’s feelings and listen to those feelings. I call it the “strengthometer.” Ask yourself: how much strength do I have today? If a lot, take on what you can, if not a lot, go easy on yourself.
The holiday is just a matter of days and then it will be back to a normal routine where the pain will still exist. No need to mask the pain just because it is the “holiday.” I also suggest that my families really ask themselves how their loved one would want them to spend the holidays and “if possible” take on this role as a remembrance to their child.
GG: What are some simple responses parents can give in regards to sympathy about the loss of their child, when they’re not ready to talk about it?
BC: It is as simple as “It is still too painful to speak of this, I will let you know when we can talk.”
One of the most important things I tell families is that this is the most important time to set emotional boundaries. People tend to say very heartless things and give unsolicited advice around death. People’s own discomfort around the subject come up and things are said that either shouldn’t be or seem cruel and misunderstanding.
A personal boundary allows the grieving family not to feel guilt when they say ”not now” or “I am not ready.” In many cases it is the first time an individual needs to stand up for themselves and during such a personally vulnerable time it is essential.
GG: Where can parents go for support during the holidays?
BC: There are a few organizations that you can go to for support. I have heard that the web site Indigo.com is helpful and the group Compassionate Friends. But these groups are around all year not just for the holidays. I recommend to my families you go anywhere that feels safe, comfortable and where your child is remembered and loved and people aren’t afraid to talk about them.
GG: What national resources are available to parents who are grieving?
BC: The above are national, and people can check with any Hospice foundation to see if a national support group can be offered.
GGP: What can parents do to help create a positive holiday memory after the loss of their child?
BC: Have each person they will be around write a memorable event that involved the child, have everyone read this and continue to speak of the event for a few minutes. Talk about what the child loved and see if anyone can spot a sign from the child. I tell many families that a lot of time remembering the death isn’t fair to the child because the life is what should be remembered.
Many thanks to Grief Recovery Counselor, Beth Creel, PhD for sharing her advice with us today. Looking for more answers? You can contact Dr. Creel at Children’s Heart Center in Nevada.