Survivors advised on holiday blues

November 23, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Although many people equate Carroll Hospice with death and dying, the agency provides support to survivors as well.

"We do life things, too," said Susan Hannon, a hospice counselor, who led a "Beating the Holiday Blues" seminar Thursday for people who recently lost a spouse through death or divorce.

The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those who have suffered a recent loss, she said.

"I would like to sleep right through them," said Elinor, who was widowed two months ago.

"I don't want to celebrate, but I would feel worse if I didn't decorate," said a widow with young children.

Others said they planned to dispense with decorating and try to ignore the most festive time of year.

"I am not doing Christmas," said Bob, a recent widower. "I can't deal with it," he said.

"What will you do?" asked Ms. Hannon. "Lock yourself in a closet? Even if you leave, you still have to come back and face your grief. You will pay now or later."

Anticipation of the first anniversary, or a special day, without a loved one is often worse than the day itself, she said. Setting realistic expectations will help defuse the anxiety of facing the holidays alone.

"Look at what society perceives as expected: making 52 varieties of homemade cookies and handmade ornaments with the kids, and the list goes on," said Ms. Hannon.

Everyone experiences stress as the holidays approach, she said. A recent loss exacerbates that stress.

"This year, in addition to the usual pressures, you must be on guard against the rush of sentimentality, and the stress and guilt this season can trigger," she said.

Plan ahead and don't go through the season with blinders on, Ms. Hannon said. Decide which family rituals and traditions to continue.

"You have to decide whether it will be worse with those traditions or without them," she said. "If you shut yourself off from traditions, you are shutting off part of what is you."

It may be comforting to hold on to the things that made holidays special, but she suggested buying something special for this year.

"You may sob every time you look at a particular ornament, but sometimes, you need to memorialize," Ms. Hannon said.

Support from family and friends remains the most effective way to combat the holiday blues, she said. "Don't be afraid to reach out to friends and ask for help."

When people tell her they have a great support group, she asks if that includes people who will be there when they are needed.

"Find an empathetic listener on whom you can unload unconditionally," Ms. Hannon said. "If you have no one, seek professional help."

She also told participants some people will "avoid them like the plague" during this season.

"We don't grieve well as a society," she said. "Others can't deal with our pain. Often, we have to put them at ease."

Writing thoughts and memories down can also help. She encouraged the group to keep a journal. "It's personal and nobody can take it away from you or judge you by it," she said.

Grief often leads to neglect of the self. She advised the group to maintain good eating and sleeping habits and to take care of the "psyche." And take care of the children, who are also grieving.

"Children tend to be ignored as mourners," she said. "Don't keep them at arm's length. It is very healthy for them to do the same grief work that you do."

Support groups are also good for children, she said.

"Help is out there for everyone," she said. "Sometimes, a phone call away."

Information: 857-1838.

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