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Dealing with grief and loss during the holiday season

Last Modified: December 14, 2018

Healthy Mind

This post was written by Kenton Kamp, MD, PPG – Family Medicine.

The holiday season is an important time in our culture. Its expectation is set early in life when, as children, we enjoy gifts and sweet foods. The season becomes a highlight. As adults, we continue to gather with family and friends and take time away from our work routines to celebrate. However, the increased focus on our relationships and festivities can sadden us if we have lost somebody or something significant. Sweet celebration meets the reality of painful absence. This large gap between joyful expectation and loss makes experiencing the holidays more difficult.

All of us experience loss at one time or another. For me, this is the second holiday season without my son who died from suicide last year. If you are having a difficult time coping with your loss and adapting to your new reality, know that you are not alone. There are many of us. Anyone who has had a treasured person end their life in suicide is a survivor.

Suicide is prevalent in the news with stories covering celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii and Robin Williams. We wonder why these famous and successful people end their lives. Of course, each person’s situation is unique. For many, the emotional energy that it takes to continue to live becomes exhausting and they lose perspective. People lose hope.

I share these thoughts not as an expert but as a survivor. For those who wonder what they can do to support family members or friends who are experiencing loss this holiday season, here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t block
  • Talk
  • Walk
 Don’t block
  • People all have difficult, painful experiences.  That is part of being human. Don’t pretend they aren’t there. You can’t block these things out of your life by pretending they did not happen.  Acting to cover them up as if they did not occur does not help us deal with the reality of our situation.
  • Don’t block people out of your life if you are suffering. Allow others to share your life situation.
  • Don’t block out people who are suffering.  Don’t let your sense of uncertainty or discomfort keep you from humbly asking how you can be there for them.
  • As Stuart Smith said at a recent seminar I attended, “Where there is suppression, depression, oppression or repression there needs to be EXPRESSION.” 
  • Use the name of the person who died. They were real people who we still have a connection with.  It doesn’t help to pretend they didn’t exist. Our memories are honored when you acknowledge them.
  • Literally. Get outside for some time away, for exercise, for more private time in conversation, for healthy distraction and for coping.
  • Walk with others. Don’t isolate yourself for prolonged lengths of time.

The holiday season is joyous and can also be mixed with a range of other emotions. As survivors, by honestly and humbly moving into our new reality, we can appreciate the sweetness the season offers, too.

Help, when you need it

The Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine has experienced specialists available to guide you to the appropriate level of care – or resources – for your situation anytime 24 hours a day. The HelpLine connects you with a full range of resources, including:

  • Free, confidential screenings
  • Services designed for the needs of children, adolescents, adults and older adults
  • Information and referrals
  • Admission assistance
  • Insurance verification and pre-certification
  • Financial counseling (in conjunction with inpatient treatment)

Call 260-471-9440 or 800-284-8439 any time to speak with a trained professional.


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