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Dealing with grief and loss during the Holidays

DOUGY CENTER


by: DAVID F. ASHTON - The Dougy Centers Executive Director, Donna Schuurman, shares tips with BEE readers for spending the Holidays with a person or a family who has recently lost a loved one. The Holidays can be a difficult time for those who have experienced the death of a friend or loved one during the year. Those who’ve experienced the loss, or those attending others who have, can feel awkward and depressed during what is portrayed as the “most joyous time of the year”.

At the internationally-respected nonprofit, The Dougy Center, support groups are provided for children and their families who have experienced the death of a family member – at Christmastime, or anytime during the year.

The Dougy Center’s Executive Director, Donna Schuurman, shared with THE BEE some wisdom they’ve acquired by helping thousands of people find peace after a loss.

“For a lot of people, the ‘first Holidays’ after they’ve experiencing after the death of a loved one can be painful or bittersweet,” Schuurman began. “This can be in terms of rituals – the way things were done in the past, like who carves the turkey or serves the ham; the giving of gifts – some of these get shifted.

“It become so obvious that the person is no longer there, that their absence can make the Holidays very painful,” Schuurman observed.

It can be even more disorienting when someone special in their lives dies during the late months of the year. “When people get together, it’s difficult to focus on fun, when the group is thinking about who is present, and who is absent.”

Because of the difficulty many people have in coming to terms with death, many people seem to have a natural desire to “make it all better”, Schuurman explained.

“One way of giving support to others is to acknowledge that you, also, are missing the person that died. Or, express that you recognize that things are different during this Holiday season, and then open the opportunity for them to talk about their loved one who passed away, if they choose to do so.

“It is when people ignore it, or pretend that ‘everything’s fine’, that situations become even more painful,” Schuurman continued.

Another way of caring is to ask the bereaved how you can be helpful. Suggest tasks you can do for them, such as help with food, child care, babysitting, or taking kids to the movies, for example. “Don’t put pressure on people who are grieving to ‘perform’, during the Holidays, in ways that you may have expected them to do in the past.”

A third tip Schuurman gave is to develop the mind-set of “letting those grieving ‘be where they are’ in the grief process. Acknowledge that it is a challenging time and circumstance. You don’t have to be morose, but remember that it’s ‘okay to feel bad’.

“I think that when people try to ‘cheer others up’, they do so because they, themselves, ‘can't handle the pain’, and it's not okay for them to be around those who feel sad. This behavior becomes isolating to the bereaved.

“Instead, let them be real. Being able to experience the joy and the pain that is all part of life shows that one cares about those who feel sorrowful during the Holidays,” Schuurman concluded.

The Dougy Center, in Inner Southeast Portland, has 59 different groups for those who have had a parent, sibling – or in the case of a teen, a close friend – who has died: Starting with three-year-olds and going up to teens, young adults, and to their parents. These services are provided without cost; they are supported totally through contributions from the community.

To read their special article dealing with this topic called “Getting through the Holidays”, go online to: www.dougy.org/news-events/news/getting-through-the-holidays/1522/

“Guests are welcome at all times of year,” Schuurman assured. “We welcome people to come by at 3909 SE 52nd Avenue; we love to give tours, and show people what we do.”