5 Coping Tips for Holiday Grief

Seniors may miss happier times spent with friends and loved ones who since have passed away.

Barbara Rhode, a Florida therapist, know that the holidays may pose a special challenge, especially with seniors: How to deal with grief?

Expectations are high for the holidays, a time when so many people feel low. And when it comes to the holiday blues and seniors, the statistics are staggering. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, of the 36 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from full-blown depression. Another 5 million suffer from less severe forms of this illness.

It is not the actual holidays that intensify or spur depression, but the fact that the holidays tend to bring memories of earlier, happier times – times that older people miss.

Rhode points out, however, there is one major exception to this. If someone loses a loved one during the holiday season than naturally each year when the anniversary of that death occurs, he or she is going to be triggered to remember that death.

While this holiday season will be as always a traditional time for joy, older adults, along with numerous other people, will be experiencing grief from the loss of at least one loved one, maybe more.  For many of them, especially if their loss has been recent, it is likely to be a time for emotional pain and sadness. 

If you are one of these people, what can you do to make this holiday season easier on yourself?  Here are five recommendations that Rhode offers to clients who visit her office in downtown St. Petersburg:

1. Try to live “normal,” and realize your grief is “normal.”  By that, Rhode says try to live each day the way you would normally and realize that the grief you are experiencing is “normal." In the months following the loss of a loved one, it is expected that you are likely to be in deep grief, crying at times, having sad emotions that won’t go away, or some other form of behavior that is normally not like you. Rhode says that’s okay, but added this: If it has been a year or more and you are still having severe emotions that is affecting your daily life “than you should seek out professional help.”

2. Make the effort to be around people. Even though you may feel like you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, Rhode recommends that you take the initiative to be around people.  One way to accomplish this is to volunteer for some non-profit organization in the community.  Not only will this help you be around people, it will get you to spend quality time doing something of importance. giving you a feeling of personal reward for helping a worthwhile cause.

3. Seek spiritual guidance.  This initiative can take different forms.  It might mean going to see a clergy person, or it might be simply praying or meditating to give you a spiritual uplift. 

4. Be flexible when it comes to participating in holiday activities.  While Rhode believes it is important to be around people and accepting an invitation to a particular party or dinner is a good idea, she says don’t accept if you think there is a chance you might breakdown emotionally.  “You don’t want to be the center of attention. 

Other experts say this is also true for other common traditional activities many people do during the holidays, such as buying gifts, wrapping presents, mailing out holidays or decorating for the season.  If you are not up to any or some of these undertakings, grief professionals want you to know that is okay. 

5. Think about doing something completely different for the holidays.  Rhode said for some people the best thing they can do is “take a trip.”   Taking a cruise or visiting someone out of state, which will put you in a totally different environment may be just the remedy that helps you cope with your grief.

Another resource you can call upon that Rhode recommends:

• Contact Compassionate Friends in Bradenton.  This organization’s mission focuses on helping individuals and families in grief following the loss of a child – regardless of the child’s age or family relationship you may have to that individual (son, daughter, brother, sister, grandchild, etc.)  For details, please visit: www.compassionatefriends.org.  Here is the link to the Sarasota chapter.

Books to consider reading include:

• Any number of books by the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross  M.D., especially her ground-breaking book, “On Death and Dying.”  Dr. Ross is recognized as the pioneer who spearheaded the hospice movement in the United States.  More can be found about her and her works through her foundation at: www.erkfoundation.org.

• “Loving What Is, Four Questions That Can Change Your Life,” by Bryon Katie.  Visit: www.thework.com to learn more about Bryon Katie and her works. 

For more information

To reach therapist Barbara Rhode, please call (727) 418-7882, or you can e-mail her at:  barbararhode@hotmail.com.


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