Coping With Grief At Holidays A Challenge

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(Host) The holidays are a time of celebration and connection. But for those who’ve recently lost a loved one, the season can be challenging.

VPR’s Susan Keese spoke recently with a bereavement specialist in Bennington, who offered some strategies for coping with a festive season in a time of sadness.

(Keese) Beth Newman is a grief counselor with Visiting Nurses and Hospice of Bennington. She says this is a busy season in her line of work.

(Newman) "We get a lot of phone calls at this time of year especially, people reaching out for support, wondering  if what they’re feeling is normal… you know in our society it’s not recognized often if you’re a working person, you get three days bereavement and then you’re expected to jump back into your job, and then during the holiday season there’s all these normal expectations that people are putting on you, when it’s already taking everything you have just to get through the day."

(Keese) Newman says grief is isolating in the best of times. The holidays can deepen that isolation.

(Newman) "I hear from people very often that they don’t want to call their friends. They don’t want to tell their family how they’re really feeling or make someone sad when it’s supposed to be such a happy time and when other people are scurrying around and shopping and planning and it just took everything you had just to go get gas in your car."

(Keese) Newman says grief can be exhausting physically as well as emotionally. It can manifest as illness, confusion or forgetfulness.

She says the process of mourning is an individual one that takes longer in some cases than in others.

Well meaning friends or relatives may mistakenly try to ‘fix’ the problem prematurely.

(Newman) "I think the greatest thing that any of us can do for someone that has experienced a loss, is to listen– to be there and to listen.. Most people simply need to tell their stories… to find out that what they’ve been through matters…  I think so much of healing grief is making meaning out of the experience."

Yet Newman says people often avoid talking about the person who has died for fear of making the bereaved person sadder.

(Newman) "And again that just adds to the isolation. Sometimes the kindest most supportive thing that we can do is acknowledge what we know is going on for that person, to give them permission to speak about it… or not but at least the opportunity is there."

(Keese) Newman runs a bereavement support group in Bennington once a week. She says people take comfort in hearing one another’s stories.

(Newman) "When we’re in the middle of it it’s so hard to make sense of it or to think clearly, but you can sit across the room from someone and listen to them talk about it and all of a sudden it can click and make sense."

(Keese) For a person who is grieving, Newman says it’s helpful to have someone to check in with and talk to about how they’re doing.

She says most areas around the country now have hospice organizations that offer bereavement counseling and support groups at little or no charge.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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