Thanks-Giving: 3 Tips for Finding Gratitude through Grief

It goes without saying that the holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year. With countless obligations and expectations, everyone feels some elevated stress during the months of November and December. This stress can be even more severe if you’ve recently lost a loved one. In a time when we’re supposed to be counting blessings, you may feel that you have nothing to be thankful for. These feelings are valid and a normal part of the grieving process. However, there are ways to work through these feelings and find glimpses of gratitude through your grief this holiday season. Keep reading to learn more.

ThanksGiving

Tip One: Embrace Your Feelings

It’s important that you truly embrace what you’re feeling. Trying to bury your emotions for the sake of others is unhealthy and may even deepen your feelings of loss, since you can’t express them. Don’t feel like you need to behave in a certain way over the holidays. Even if everyone else in your life is in full holiday swing, it’s okay to tell them you’re not feeling up to a certain party or activity this year. It’s okay to not feel in the “holiday spirit”. It’s okay to want more alone time. Try not to get swallowed up in the expectation of others. Without your loved one, the holidays will be forever different. Trying to fit into your traditional mold may not work. Recognize that you will need to make changes based on how you’re feeling at a given time. We can open ourselves to wonderful new and healing experiences when we decide to let go of previous expectations and obligations.

Tip Two: Embrace Your Outlook

While it may be hard to find things to be thankful for, try to find some glimpses of hope in your life. Blessings can be as simple as having food on the table, a roof over your head, or a meaningful friend in your life. Taking time to appreciate the wonderful parts of your life doesn’t mean you don’t miss your loved one. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about them, and it won’t erase the pain you feel. However, noticing blessings in your life will help you balance the good with the bad, and give you greater perspective. There are countless mental health benefits to listing blessings, and this in turn can help your physical health as well. Remember that your outlook is the one thing in this world that you have complete control over. Peacefully remembering your loved one while having a joyful outlook is a balance we all have the potential to achieve.

Tip Three: Embrace Your Faith

It’s important to remember that, while God allows difficult times to enter our lives, He wants to help us find happiness again through the grace of His comfort and strength. He wants us to experience peace and to truly enjoy the life we’re given. Losing a loved one will change your life forever, and the sorrow associated with grief is unlike anything else on this earth. But we are all called to find meaning beyond the suffering. Our faith gives us hope and calls us to greater things. God has plans for each and every one of us—plans for hope and a future. While we may not always see the logic or reasoning behind the path God leads us on, we must trust that He alone knows what is best for us. He is leading us on the path to everlasting life—to a place where we will be reunited with our loved ones forever.

Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Please click here:  https://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

5 Things to Remember When Visiting a Cemetery

Visiting a cemetery can be an uncomfortable experience for some. Confronting the concept of death and grieving the loss of dearly departed loved ones brings a plethora of complex emotions. As hard as this can be, working through these complex emotions is the key to greater spiritual and emotional healing. While comfort levels will depend on each individual and their situation, there are some things to keep in mind when visiting a cemetery that can help make the experience more peaceful. Keep reading to learn more.

Visitation Blog
Photo Credit: Kim Giamo

There are no expectations

While movies, TV shows, and even those closest to us may talk about the emotional experience of visiting a cemetery, remember that how you handle the experience is entirely up to you. While some people may feel comfortable crying at the grave site, you may not– and that’s okay. Displaying (or not displaying) emotion is not an indication of how you felt for your loved one. For some, decorating the grave site might derive the most comfort. For others, simply sitting in silence is what’s best. It’s important to find what works for you. Don’t feel like you must act a certain way or do a certain activity when visiting. Just like your relationship with your loved one, each person will have a unique connection and way of communicating love and loss.

You are on sacred ground

Remember that cemeteries are sacred places. Catholic cemeteries are specifically blessed and are considered to be an extension of the church itself. While there’s no need to dress a certain way or say a specific prayer, use the sacredness of the grounds to enter into a meditative and spiritual mindset. While you’re loved ones may not be here physically to connect with, you can still maintain relationships with them through prayer.

You are in an open space

One important thing to remember when visiting a cemetery is that you’re likely not the only one visiting their loved ones. While it’s good to express yourself in a way that you feel comfortable, it’s also courteous to remember those around you. Playing loud music, shouting, or otherwise being disruptive may make visitation hard for others.

You will (most likely) be outdoors

Most burial choices (aside from those who choose to be interred in a mausoleum) will be outside. Plan ahead to make sure you’re wearing weather appropriate clothing. Also, due to the forces of nature and other outdoor elements, make sure to read safety signs. If you feel a path is dangerous for you to attempt, don’t. Check to see if the cemetery office provides escorts- they will be able to guide you to the burial site safely.

Take it all in

Sometimes visits can seem more like a chore than a genuine experience. It’s important when visiting to take a few moments to truly meditate and spend spiritual time with your loved one. Think about their life and the lasting impact they left on yours. Treasure the quiet time together and brief separation from the rest of the world.

Some people find consolation in praying near the grave site. A common prayer is:

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

However, prayer doesn’t need to be formal or rehearsed. Simply spending time in meditation can be healing on its own.

What do you find most helpful and comforting when visiting your loved ones? Let us know in the comments below.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s hard to believe, but the winter months are fast approaching! As the sun starts to rise late and set early, many individuals start to experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can affect nearly anyone, but those who are grieving may be especially vulnerable to this unique type of depression. In short, SAD is characterized by an increased feeling of depression during the winter months. Experts believe this is mainly due to the changes in natural sunlight we receive during the winter months. While experiencing SAD during the winter months is most common, it’s also possible to experience SAD during the summer or spring. It all depends on the individual and their physical and emotional chemistry. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of SAD, as well as common coping techniques.

SAD blog

Signs of SAD

Just like any other form of depression or anxiety, SAD can manifest in variety of ways. There are, however, some more common symptoms including:

  • Severe depression for several weeks with no good days
  • General tiredness and sluggishness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
  • Being easily agitated
  • Feelings of guilt or self-loathing
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide (Seek help if you are experiencing these thoughts. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone immediately).

Ways to Treat SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder should be taken seriously. If you find yourself identifying with the symptoms outlined above, it may be wise to meet with a healthcare provider to discuss your options. There are many treatment options available. Below are 5 coping mechanisms commonly used to combat symptoms of SAD.

  1. Light Therapy

As previously mentioned, it’s believed that one of the main causes of SAD is the change in natural sunlight. Therefore, many people find that light therapy is an effective tool in coping with SAD. There are many light boxes you can buy that mimic natural light. Exposing yourself to a cool-white florescent light for just a few minutes each day has been proven to improve overall mood. Further, even if it’s a bit cloudy out, spending some extra time outdoors in the fresh air can help your mood. It will also make sure you do get exposure to whatever natural light is able to escape through the clouds!

  1. Eat Well and Exercise

It’s important to remember the strong connection between physical health and mental health. That’s why it’s also important to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise. Make sure you nourish your body by giving it the vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. Moving your body can also help, as exercise releases endorphins, which are proven to naturally improve your mood. While it may be tempting to stay cuddled in bed with a big serving of comfort food, try to eat as healthy and exercise as much as possible.

  1. Find a Favorite Activity

It’s important to practice plenty of self-care during depressive periods. It can be helpful to find an activity you enjoy during the winter months. Certain activities can become a helpful and constructive outlet, and they can also give you something to look forward to when winter starts approaching. Maybe it’s a creative hobby like painting or knitting. Maybe it’s baking. Maybe it’s saving a book you’ve been wanting to read until the winter months. Whatever it is, find something that you can do during the winter months to keep your brain stimulated and your mood elevated!

While these techniques have been proven to help most people struggling with SAD, please remember that each person and situation is unique. It may take some time and self-reflection to find coping techniques that work for you. However, the tools outlined above are great places to start.

Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Click here to learn more.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

What You Should Know About Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s guilt is a very special form of grief. It can be displayed in a variety of ways, and in some cases people may not be able to identify it in themselves. Like all forms of grief, it’s important to work through it in a healthy and constructive way. Keep reading to learn more about survivor’s guilt- what it is, what common symptoms are, and some helpful coping techniques.

What you should know about survivor's guilt

Who is susceptible to survivor’s guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is often seen in people who survive a very significant trauma. Often, this trauma involves the death of other people. Some common victims of survivor’s guilt include veterans, first responders, and survivors of acts of terrorism. However, there are other sources of survivor’s guilt such as transplant recipients, children in families affected by miscarriage, those with loved ones who died by suicide, and many other possible causes. Survivor’s guilt, though often experienced by those directly involved with the trauma, can also impact those who were nowhere near the situation or circumstance. As is the case with any type of grief, it is also very specific to the individual and situation. People may experience survivor’s guilt even when they did not know the victim or situation personally.

What are some signs of survivor’s guilt?

While the effects of survivor’s guilt vary from person to person, there are a few common symptoms in people who experience this unique form of grief:

  • Sense of depression or anxiety
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Numbness/ feeling unattached to reality
  • Questioning of one’s own mortality
  • Feelings of deep regret or “unworthiness”
  • Feelings of being restless or helpless
  • Irritability and insomnia

These feelings are certainly normal after such a tragedy, and are important to acknowledge as part of the healing process. However, if you notice that your symptoms persist for several months with no good days it may be a good idea to seek professional counseling. Always seek professional help if you have thoughts about harming yourself or others.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

What are some ways to cope with survivor’s guilt?

Remember that openly accepting your grief is the first step toward long term healing. Since grief is unique to each person, finding a coping mechanism that works for you may take some time. With that in mind, here are a few good places to start:

  1. Self-care

It’s very important that you take care of your body. Grief takes a strong emotional toll, yes—but it also takes a physical one. Getting plenty of rest and eating healthy foods is a good way to take care of your body during such a stressful time. You should also be doing activities that support your mental well-being. While it may be hard at first, doing activities you enjoy and taking time to mentally rest are important. Remember that you deserve to be happy – regardless of the tragedy you went through.

  1. Seeking support

While support groups are a good idea for all types of grief, they can be especially helpful for those struggling with survivor’s guilt. Hearing about the experiences of others and realizing you’re not alone can be incredibly insightful. It can help you work past feelings of personal guilt and shame and remind you that what you’re experiencing is incredibly human and normal. If you’re interested in joining a support group, please click here.

  1. Remembering those you’ve lost

Many people find that creating some type of memorial, volunteering for a charity, or otherwise spending time remembering those who have passed away is a good way to work through their grief. It keeps the memory of the deceased alive, which is important to survivors who find comfort in staying connected to the past. It can also be a good outlet for extra energy or restlessness one may experience while grieving.

Survivor’s guilt is something that many people live with every day. You will have good days and bad days, but hopefully by identifying your grief and finding a coping technique that works for you, you can find a way to live a fulfilling and happy life after experiencing a tragedy.

The Catholic Cemeteries Association has several bereavement resources available to the community. Please click here to learn more.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

NDCL Students Serve Those in Need at Calvary Cemetery

This past week, the Catholic Cemeteries Association welcomed two Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin School (NDCL) students, Brendan Boland and Nathan Lah, to Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland to participate in a rather unique service opportunity. Boland and Lah both volunteered their time to be pallbearers as part of the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Society at NDCL. In short, the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Society is a program that connects students with local Catholic cemeteries. Cemeteries can call upon students to serve as pallbearers for those who pass away without family members or friends to do so themselves. As part of their service, Boland and Lah assisted in carrying a community member to their final resting place, and also took part in a prayer service at the grave site.

Participating in the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Society is a remarkable way for young people to live their faith by performing the Corporal Work of Mercy of burying the dead, and the Spiritual Work of Mercy of praying for the dead. The CCA is continually grateful to partner with schools such as NDCL as part of our ongoing mission bury the dead with dignity and grace.

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Nathan Lah (left) and Brendan Boland (right) acting as pallbearers during a recent burial at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.
Post written by Katie Karpinski