Counselors explain tips for managing grief during the holidays

Published: Nov. 28, 2016 at 10:37 AM CST
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Every person expresses grief differently, and the holidays can throw that process for a loop. Counselors say there are strategies to manage your grief, as well as signs loved ones need to look out for.

The holidays are traditionally a time of joy and happiness.

"When you've lost a loved one, a special person is no longer her physically, so it can be very difficult," Denise Montford, a counselor at Angel House Bereavement Center, said.

The Angel House Bereavement Center offers individual counseling and grief support groups year round. But if you're spending the holiday season with someone who's grieving, consider these do's and don't.

"Sometimes family and friends, they want to be supportive, but they don't know what to say," Montford said. "So they may say things like, 'I know how you feel,' or, 'You need to get over it,' and those are not comforting things to hear."

A counselor will listen to all those stories, and Montford, one of the open ears at Angel House, says that's the best way you can help your grieving loved one.

"Let that person who is grieving talk about that person," she said. "Don't act like, just because that person's not there that they didn't exist."

But grief manifests itself differently in every person, child, and adult.

"Withdrawal is a normal part of the grieving process," Montford said.

But there are specifics symptoms of depression to look out for.

"If it goes on for a period of time, if the person's not going out, if they're not taking care of themselves," Montford said.

Children often express their grief through their play.

"They may be acting out," Montford said. "They may be more irritable. They may be angry. They may have trouble sleeping."

Holiday traditions can be quick triggers for grief, and counseling can help folks cope with those emotions in the moment. In the meantime, Motford says it's okay to step back and start new traditions.

"Sometimes rituals can help in remembering your loved one," she said. "It can be lighting a candle. It can be hanging a special stocking, having a time during the holiday meal where you share stories."

And if those new traditions spark moments of happiness, Montford says, push any accompanying guilt aside.

"If you can find some moments during the holiday season to find a little joy, that's okay too," she said.

If a grieving loved one expresses thoughts of self harm or suicide, it's time to intervene right away. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.