Grieving woman and portrait of Chaplain David Grogg
Healthy Living

How to Deal With Grief during the Holidays: Part 1

Dec 11 2018

Learn how to cope with grief in Part 1 of this interview with a Mercy Health chaplain

The holiday season is thought of as a time of warmth and togetherness. It can also be a time of deep loneliness for people who have experienced a loss. In part 1 of this Q & A on grief, Outpatient Chaplain David Grogg from Mercy Health – St. Rita’s Medical Center shares some of his insight on grief gained during his 35 years of helping people through the different phases of life, including times of loss and mourning.

Q: What is grief and when do people grieve?

A: Grief is a natural process we all go through when we experience a loss. It can be the death of a person or a pet. Socially, it could be the loss of a significant relationship with an individual – a life partner, a coworker, or a spouse with whom you are getting a divorce – that loss itself, whatever it could be. Grief could also come from a job change or unemployment.

There can be anger and guilt. You can go through a whole lot of emotional stresses; a lot of anxiety can be created. Sometimes people can work through the emotions on their own and other times, a person needs someone to talk through it with.

Mourning, which is just literally the outward expression of that grief, can affect our appetites, our sleep patterns, it can cause physical side effects, even allowing your body to become so worn down that it allows illness to come upon you much more easily.

Q: Are there defined stages of grief? 

A: One of the biggest is the initial shock and disbelief – that it has actually happened. And then that begins the whole process in which you can go in and out of the various stages of grief – you can skip some, go back to some – but I think that shock and disbelief is one of the big ones that usually occurs with each loss.

After that, it is usually denial. We see this a lot in the hospital setting – you just deny the reality that’s in front of you because it’s out of the norm that you’ve been experiencing. We say it didn’t happen, even though we know it did, because we don’t want it to be our reality.

We don’t want to go on with life without that person, so then we can become angry: at the medical staff, at family, at yourself. You can do the blame game.

This often leads to depression, which is often when I receive requests for help. People go into a state of depression because they don’t really know how to move on from that loss, what that next step is.

Q: How can we make the holidays easier, both if we’re grieving a new loss or if we have an old loss?

A: A personal example is that during the holidays, one of the things I did with my father was to process hundreds of pounds of fudge…one of the things we do now as a tradition, in memory of my dad, is we make fudge to recreate the memory of my dad. It’s something I can share with my daughters, it’s something I can pass onto our extended family as a gift, and it’s one way to keep the memories of my father alive. So, that’s one thing I do personally that I enjoy, that helps me to remember my father.

What I’ve suggested to some patients that I have counseled, especially after a fresh loss, when the emotions are still raw, is to kind of make a sort of memorial in the home, some of the things that were so important for that loved one, to remind you maybe of their vocation, maybe special things you did together, maybe a little memento that reminds you, maybe a trip you took together, just a place where you can kind of go to find some peace and solace and share just a moment of good memories.

Another thing during the holidays that could easily be done is: my kids used to make ornaments you can hang on the tree. You could make a Christmas ornament to hang on the tree for the memory of a loved one.

Many people like to use candles – maybe even light a candle in memory of that person – anything you can use as a focal point acknowledging that person. Talk about it, or maybe just view it in a personal way.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Chaplain Grogg next week!

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