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Surviving the holiday

Published November 14. 2013 05:00PM

"GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays" is a free seminar for those facing the holidays after a loved one's death. It will take place at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 25 at St. John's Lutheran Church, 826 Mahoning Drive West, Lehighton.

The seminar offers suggestions and reassurance through video interviews with counselors, grief experts and others who have experienced the holidays after a loved one's death. Topics include "Why the Holidays Are Tough," "What to Expect," "How to Prepare," "How to Manage Relationships and Holiday Socials" and "Using the Holidays to Help You Heal."

Those who attend will receive a free book with over 30 daily readings providing additional insights and ideas on holiday survival.

To register or for more information, call the Rev. Chris deForest at St. John's at 570-386-9960, or email

Here are some helpful tips that will be discussed at the seminar:

Holidays trigger tough emotions

Start by learning what emotions are normal and expected when facing the holidays without your loved one.

"If you're feeling overwhelmed as the holiday season approaches, that's very normal," advised psychologist Dr. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge. "You're probably wondering how you're going to handle this and are unsure of what course to take. I want to assure you that you can get through these holidays, and hopefully you can even find moments of joy."

When you know what to expect, you won't be rendered helpless as holiday events trigger unexpected emotions. Spend time talking with people who have experienced a loss and have already been through a holiday season without their loved one. They can help you have an idea of emotions and emotional triggers to expect. They may also provide much-needed comfort and support.

Create a holiday plan

Another important step is to create a healthy plan for the season.

"Planning does help you to have a little control, even when you feel totally out of control," said Dr. Zonnebelt-Smeenge.

A healthy plan involves making decisions in advance about traditions, meals, time spent with others, decorating, gift-giving and commitments.

You will likely not have the energy or the interest in doing as much as you have in past years. Decide ahead of time which invitations you'll accept, and let the host or family member know you might leave early. Consider whether your decorating will be different this year: perhaps a smaller tree or simpler ornaments. If you cook or bake, cut back.

Make a list of every holiday tradition, then decide which will be too difficult without your loved one, which traditions you'd like to maintain, and what new traditions you can start this year.

Communicate with family and friends

Communicate your specific concerns and needs with your family and friends. People in grief are tempted to put on a mask and pretend things are fine, especially over the holidays.

"I didn't want to put a damper on anyone else's joy," shared Mardie. "So I put on a happy face and tried to be the sister, the daughter, the aunt, that everybody wanted to see. Putting on that happy face was a heavier burden than I was emotionally able to carry at the time."

Your friends may want you to "cheer up" and "have fun." Others will avoid you because they don't know what to say and don't want to make you feel worse. Some family members will give you wrong advice in a misguided attempt to help. They may mean well, but will only end up hurting you if you don't communicate what you truly need.

As difficult as it may be, it's important to tell people what they can do to help and what they are doing that isn't helping. And if you don't have the energy or inclination to talk to people face-to-face, then write your thoughts, concerns and needs in a letter or email. What's important is that you are honest and gracious in your communication.

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