Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 2004
When Christmas brings tears
Loss – death, divorce separation – means sorrow-filled holidays
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year - but not for everyone. If you have lost someone through death, separation or divorce, Christmas can be the most dreaded time of the year, says bereavement counsellor Helen Gledhow.
"Christmas is a time for holidays, a time to be home and a time for families that are intact and doing cheerful and happy and fun things. But for some people it's not quite a time of cheer," Gledhow said. "It's a time of great pain, loneliness, separation and anxiety."
Gledhow, a bereavement counsellor at St. Theresa Parish, runs an annual workshop called When Christmas Hurts at Providence Renewal Centre. Now in its 10th year, the event is designed specifically for people who are experiencing loss during the Christmas season. Close to 30 people took part in this year's workshop Dec. 8.
Share their feelings
"I think this workshop is an important time for them to gather and to acknowledge their true feelings and to acknowledge their loneliness and to have an opportunity to share that with others and to be around others who are experiencing the same type of loneliness and the same type of emptiness of feelings," Gledhow said in an interview.
"And it's an opportunity for them to come together and to honour their feelings and to pray, to spend some time reminiscing and honouring the common feelings that they are having at this time and to share some strategies and some ways they might have to get through the day."
Very often the anticipation of Christmas day is worse than the day itself, said Gledhow. "But the actual day may not be as frightening as it is in their mind. They are longing to be together, they are longing for things the way they were."
The worst thing people who are grieving a loved one can do is to be alone at Christmas. "It's important for those who are in pain right now and those who are lonely to reach out to some of the people in need," Gledhow said.
"That helps them to deal with their own suffering. We try to encourage people who are suffering at this time to reach out to the homeless, maybe go out and serve meals in the soup kitchens or to go to the hospitals to spend time with little babies who are separated from their parents and perhaps spend time cuddling them or playing with small children who are apart from their parents at this time."
Or they can spend a few hours in a nursing home with the lonely and those who have no one left to visit them, Gledhow suggested. "This may give them an opportunity to step outside from their own pain and their own grief for awhile and be in the presence of others who are suffering."
Workshop participants discuss Gledhow's presentation in small groups and spend time dealing with questions about their own family. "They are encouraged to talk about what family was and what family is and how they dealt with grief and sadness in the past and how Christmas will be different for them this year compared to years when things were intact."
Participants spend time listening to each other. "We listen to their pain; we listen to their loneliness. Somehow sharing their pain with others and having others carry their pain for them and with them will help them lighten their load." The workshop also puts them in contact with others so they don't feel so alone or isolated at this time of the year.
Face your feelings
People grieving a loved one at Christmas should not run away from their feelings. "They should honour their feelings, they should be around people who make them feel loved and give them a meaningful Christmas," Gledhow said. "They need to spend time with people who care for them and who love them and who understand their suffering."
They should also spend time honouring their loved ones. "They should remember their loved ones because it is in the remembering that you heal, not in the forgetting," Gledhow said. "You don't forget people at this time; you remember them."
A recent separation or divorce is especially difficult at Christmas because it involves families being torn apart, Gledhow noted.
"Many times children will end up spending time with one parent and the other parent is left out or the grandparents are left out at this time," she said. "Somebody is left out and this is very painful; it's a dreaded time. Christmas is a dreaded time for many people who are experiencing divorce. There is a pronounced emptiness and a pronounced absence of family members at the table."
Friends also find it difficult to deal with people who are divorced because they were friends of both the husband and wife, and now they don't know what to do.
"And so it's important that these people connect with others who are in a similar situation," Gledhow recommended. "That's why we encourage them to go and to spend at least a few hours with someone who does not have anyone to visit them."
Volunteering at hospitals, nursing homes and soup kitchens will not only bring joy to the less fortunate at Christmas, but will also help the grieving person get through the day, Gledhow said. "It takes the edge off their own pain."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.