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Ways to help those suffering with loss at the holidays

By Terri Richardson
Dec. 24, 2011 at 10 p.m.

Dealing with loss during the holiday season is especially hard since it is one Americans' primary times for togetherness, reaching out and sharing joy.

"Anytime you deal with the holidays, you are dealing with a lot of emotions from the traditions," said Director of Chaplaincy Services Don Ross for Heartsway Hospice. "What a person almost has to do is create a whole new normal for the holiday, a system for them to cope with the emotions that come up from experiences formed around the holiday."

Ross said Heartsway Hospice does a love light ceremony during the holiday season, with luminaries and a time for people to reflect on family events and the good times.

"We recommend you give a love gift to an organization or to something that will benefit within the community," said Ross. "Put it in memory to that person, and that helps a lot. Provide a needy family with a meal, so they can enjoy the holiday experience."

"Everybody goes through grief, and it's one of those things everybody deals with, from multiple things and not just the loss of a spouse or parents, even grandparents," said Ross. "You can have grief because of the loss of a job or a marriage, a lot of things."

Ross also included on the company's newsletter that one might consider setting aside a little extra to give themselves a gift at Christmas, something like their loved one might have chosen.

Many turn to faith when dealing with grief and Ross also recommends that in addition to making you own, new tradition, a visit to a "candlelight service can be beneficial."

Locally outspoken about her own lost loves, Demetria McFarland-Hall had one of the worst shocks of her life on Christmas morning when she was nine years old.

"We were waiting on our dad to come like he did every year with an arm full of gifts, and instead, our mother came to us and told us he had been killed. There's nothing like it, it was life changing," she said.

She said his loss was especially hard from that time until about six years ago when she gave her life to Christ.

"I hurt and even contemplated ending my own life because such a big part of it was gone," she said. "The hurt is still there, but it's not as heavy as it was when Christ wasn't in my life. I haven't shed a tear this whole year over the lost of my mom, over my brother Boogie or my dad."

Ms. Hall has taken-up year-round activism for ending violence in town with Marshall Against Violence because both her brother's and father's deaths are unsolved homicides.

"It doesn't have to be a violent tragedy for it to be a loss," she said. "When they're not with you, you feel that loss an absence. The holidays are different, and there's nothing the same about my Christmas."

That one has to find new ways to bring joy into their holiday season is not something to keep to themselves, she said.

"There's nothing like spending the Christmas season alone with sad thoughts, so don't spend time alone," she said. "My thing has been to stay close to loved ones and friends, my church family."

Someone suffering from grief may not reach out for love and support.

If you know someone who has difficulty around the holidays, and you should not assume others have stepped-in to make the season bright, she said.

Caring Connections online at suggests the following list of tips for helping others cope with grief during the holidays:

Be supportive of the way a person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions while others change their rituals.

Offer to help them with baking or cleaning.

Offer to help with decorating. (Ornaments that bring raw emotions can be left out for a year and return later)

Invite the person to attend a religious service with you or your family.

Give a gift in their lost love's name and remind the person they are not forgotten.

Keep in touch, so they know they are not forgotten as well.

"Grief is necessary ... a healthy way to cope with the loss and everything it means to us," said Ross. "It is a completely human thing to do. We are created to grieve, just as we are created to love."



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