The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


November 3, 2013

When holidays hurt

It may be an empty chair at the table, a song the person sang, a favorite Yuletide activity. Holiday traditions can trip up those recovering from the loss of a significant person in their lives, says Jewell Field, a Hospice of Southern West Virginia bereavement support specialist. “Especially if it’s the first holiday after the loved one has passed, it’s a very difficult time.”

Maybe Dad was the one who always put the turkey in the oven. Maybe Mom gave out gifts from underneath the tree. “There are certain roles that person may have done for the family. As counselors, we encourage families to keep some of the old traditions, but to make new ones as well. Maybe the oldest son sits in the father’s place and takes over those responsibilities this year,” she suggests.

Field has personal experience in the area of grieving. As a go-to person for family and friends losing their loved ones to life-limiting illness at Hospice, she is also a leader of community bereavement groups, offered to families who have suffered loss, with or without Hospice services being involved.

Field also had to make a new tradition within her family when her dad passed away. “My brother wasn’t ready to sit where Dad always sat at the table. So we put Dad’s picture there. After prayer, there was weeping, but then it turned to the joyous memories we had of him. We were able to remember him our own way around the table.”

Another option, she suggests, is to have dinner or the celebration at another location than what was traditional for the family. “We also tell them to have a plan for when it all falls apart,” Field explains. “Have someone you can call when it gets overwhelming and let them know you need their support.”

Depression is higher within the general population around the holidays. Unable to compete with the seemingly mandatory joy levels, many succumb to unrealistic, ideal expectations for the season. For those in the active grieving process, the shopping, the parties and the merriment can all be overwhelming.

“Their tendency is to isolate themselves. We encourage them not to do that. If they are being invited to get-togethers, they can say ‘no,’ but we ask them to pick and choose at least a couple to say ‘yes’ to. Isolation makes depression more prevalent.”

Another way to find a measure of happiness during the holidays is to put away things that stress and find what brings joy and peace. “Instead of worrying about getting gifts, maybe get gift cards or ask someone to help you shop this year. You might even want to make a donation to a charity in the person’s name. Take care of yourself this season, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Field suggests.

She also encourages journaling by writing down feelings for the day, getting both the frustrations and any joys down in ink, taking care to be more concerned about getting it out than getting it right. “Keeping a journal is a way to let them express their feelings. It is not to be shared with anyone. We tell them it’s for their eyes only.”

Annette Jennings, also a bereavement support specialist at HSWV, has suggestions for friends and family of someone grieving during the holidays.

“In the beginning after you lose someone, there is an outpouring of cards and food and visitors coming in. Then all of that abruptly stops.” Once the flow of visitors stops, says Jennings, that’s when the real opportunity to be a friend begins. “Be specific in how you are going to help the person who has lost someone. Don’t ask, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ Instead, say, ‘I’m going to come by and pick you up to get your hair done in about an hour,’ or ‘I’m going to come by and walk your dog.’ Things you might think are little could be a big help to someone who is grieving.”

Trying to fix the grieving person is futile, says Jennings. “You can’t fix them, but you can empower them to help themselves.” Being present to listen, not offer advice, means more than the compulsion to wrap problems up with a tidy bow. Losing someone is often messy, and the grieving people may need to tell their story, multiple times, just to get it out and to be heard.

“Even if you are at a loss for words — just to be there, physically present, to listen. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, telling it is a healing process for them,” Jennings says.

Field adds that the tendency to fix or resolve quickly is a common scenario among children toward the surviving parent. “Sometimes, they see the parent grieving and their instinct is to get them back to what they used to enjoy as soon as possible. They may not have the physical strength to do what they used to. The best thing we can do is to spend our time.” Resist the urge to encourage activities early on in the grieving process that the person enjoyed with the deceased. “Really, they just need a quiet, supportive presence around them. You will know when the bereaved is ready to take that next baby step and get back into things.”


Coping with the Holidays, Hospice of Southern West Virginia’s free three-week bereavement group, begins from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Wickham Administrative Office Building, with an evening class option from 6 to 8 p.m. at Doug and Lucy Bowers Hospice House. You do not have to be a Hospice care recipient or family member to enroll. Call 304-255-6404 to sign up; registration for this class ends Nov. 8.

Text Only
  • bob thompson The jazz man

    If Bob Thompson’s 30-year career as a professional musician has taught him anything, it’s that there are really only two kinds of music.


    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Leave a good legacy, and respect others’

    The death this week of the Rev. Jerry Falwell led to a network and cable blitz of commentaries on his life. We’ve been bombarded with a flurry of eulogies, criticisms, apathetic shrugs and lots of news footage regarding Falwell’s faith and foibles.


    July 26, 2014

  • 072314 Life CrossFit 4.jpg Crossfit Nation: Working out the WOD way

    Just as fashion trends come and go, so do fitness fads, and Cyndie Chinn had tried them all.

    July 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • downsize 1 Living large in smaller spaces

    How is it possible that as your nest gets emptier, your garage gets fuller? Living off the grid sounds tantalizing — the extreme version of paring down. But are you ready for solar panels and growing your own groceries or would a smaller home do the trick?

    July 20, 2014 3 Photos

  • Relishing the faith of little children

    July 19, 2014

  • Guns 1 ‘Guns’ for Life

    With the latest World Health Organization figures showing global life expectancy increasing from 64 years in 1990 to 70 years in 2011, staying healthy enough to add quality to the quantity of life is an important consideration.

    July 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • coconut 4 Crack open the power of the coconut

    Now let’s get this straight …
      We know about Parrotheads. And Cheeseheads. But when did Coconut Heads become cool?
    Move over, argan — you are so last season. Another exotic oil is taking lead role in everything from shampoo to weight-loss supplements. That cast-iron skillet seasoning, stretch-mark banishing essence of the hour is — coconut oil.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Free summer serenade concert to be held

    Aurora Celtic, sponsored by Ivy & Stone, presents the free Summer Serenade concert Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Brown House lawn in Summersville.

    July 13, 2014

  • WVU Extension: Healthy summer eating tips for all occasions

    Summer and early fall are the times of year for family reunions, potluck picnics, pool parties and various other celebrations where we like to share food.

    July 13, 2014

  • new BAF fund Endowment still helping students attend college

    The “Beckley College, College of West Virginia, Mountain State University and University of Charleston-Beckley Alumni Association Fund” has the distinction of having the longest name of any of the 400 permanent endowments managed by the Beckley Area Foundation.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo