Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

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The holidays are a time of festivities and joy in which we come together to celebrate with family and friends. But sometimes a holiday can come during a time of grieving and loss of a loved one. It is in these times that we experience emotions that are often difficult to grapple with. While it is not easy, there are helpful solutions that can ease the grieving process and allow one to move forward peacefully.

The Youth Experience

At the Children’s Bereavement Center Rio Grande Valley, counselors work with children and their families to cope with a recent death in the family by providing a comfortable homelike setting. This environment provides a safe place where children are encouraged to talk about their feelings and to honor the loved one they have lost. It’s an opportunity for them to talk about these feelings out loud, often together with other family members, and to have these emotions honored.

“We like to tell our families that they have permission to skip out on a holiday, do something different, or what feels right,” said Cindy Perez Waddle, a counselor at CBC-RGV. She likes to reiterate that there is no right or wrong way of approaching the holidays, that it’s okay to do something different, and that you shouldn’t feel guilty about making this sort of change. “We want [them] to remember that children are children and that they like to celebrate.”

Waddle encourages families to use the following recommendations to help guide them through the grieving process.

  • Seek Support: Find family, friends, a grief counselor, or support groups that can offer you support when you need it the most.
  • Self-Care: Sometimes grief can be so overwhelming that we forget the importance of these most basic needs. Prioritize eating, sleeping, and physical exercise. Give yourself permission to engage in activities that reminds you of what it feels like to be cared for and feel good.
  • Allow Yourself to Grieve: Don’t rush the process or try to avoid the pain. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking about how you “should” or “shouldn’t” feel.
  • Find Ways to Honor Your Memories: Create special ways to memorialize the person who died.

CBC-RGV is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its services are free to the Rio Grande Valley community.

Services offered include:

  • Private therapy sessions for both the individual and family members who are experiencing or anticipating the death of a loved one
  • Specialized peer support group programs
  • Grief Camps
  • School crisis services
  • Professional education trainings through the Grief Education Institute

Helping Adults Cope

Robert Marez, a psychiatric mental health NP at JNC Behavioral Services, believes that individuals who are going through the grieving process should “rely on friends, exercise, take care of themself, and not be too critical on themself for not grieving fast enough,” he said. Marez encourages individuals to take breaks from the grief, do something, such as watching a positive movie, and enjoy little things and not feel guilty about it. He recommends reading grief and loss self-help books, watching YouTube videos where people talk about their loss and their grief, and visiting online support groups to help in dealing with the pain.

Marez sees a lack of resources and lack of therapists in the RGV as some of the hurdles that our community faces. He would like to see more preventive mental health care in school systems, more support groups, and more opportunities to begin therapy before a loved one has died. Support groups and group therapy is valuable as individuals go through the grieving process.

The most important advice he would give “is to explain the importance of grieving and being open about it,” Marez said. “If you suppress that grieving process, you’re running away and not dealing with it.” Feeling upset and crying are a natural part of the grieving process and Marez wants individuals to feel comfortable to express these emotions. Relying on family members can also help. Whether it’s spending time with family or answering their calls, the connection to loved ones is valuable.

During the grieving process, he advises that individuals postpone major life decisions because “you’re not thinking at your best.” He says that it’s important to wait on these decisions until there is the opportunity to think clearly through them. Also, during this time, people should try to avoid alcohol and drugs, have a regular routine that includes at least 20 minutes of exercise a day to relieve tension, eat and get enough sleep, and not be afraid to break down and cry.

While grieving, Marez encourages individuals to embrace spirituality and to draw closer to family and loved ones. He has witnessed how helping others and volunteering, especially during the holidays, helps bring joy. Having human interaction and making a positive difference in others’ lives can be rewarding.

As we approach the end of the year, and the holidays that mark the beginning of a new year, we celebrate with family, friends, and loved ones. For those who have recently lost someone or who are supporting someone in critical care, know that you are not alone. The grieving process is painful, but there are services and methods of coping that are available through local resources and through online support groups. It is important to embrace your emotions, and to reach out to loved ones for support. For those who know someone dealing with a recent loss, remember that you can play a valuable role in their healing process.

For more information about the Children’s Bereavement Center Rio Grande Valley, visit cbcst.org/rio-grande-valley.

It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.  It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.     – Agnes M. Pharo