Coping with Valentine’s Day: A Guide for the Bereaved

coping with valentine's day

Valentine’s Day is tough. Even for those who haven’t lost a loved one, the day can be an emotional trigger or stressful obligation. For those who have lost a loved one, the day serves as a solemn reminder that we are missing someone on this earth. Keep reading for some guidance on how to handle this unique holiday.

  1. Set your own expectations
    1. Like all holidays, Valentine’s Day carries with it a certain set of expectations. Especially in the years immediately after the death of a loved one, the loss of tradition and custom can come as a major shock. This is completely normal. However, a great way to deal with this new reality is to set new and realistic expectations for the holidays, including Valentine’s Day. If you don’t want to go out, then don’t go out. If you don’t want to watch a romantic movie, then don’t. The day and how you handle it is entirely up to you and your personal preference.
  2. Celebrate yourself
    1. Valentine’s Day is about love—and this includes self-love. Spend the day doing your favorite things or treating yourself to a new experience. Whether it’s going to the movie theater for a double feature or finally taking that art class you’ve been wanting to start, spending the day to truly love yourself and who you are is a great way to combat feelings of loneliness. Learn to love who you are as an individual child of God. So often, we define ourselves by our relationship with other people, whether we’re a wife, husband, sister, son, etc. Because of this, when we lose the people we are so connected to, we can lose our sense of self. Valentine’s Day can be a great opportunity to discover what makes you happy—so don’t be afraid to explore!
  3. Honor your loved one
    1. Of course, despite celebrating yourself, Valentine’s Day is sure to remind you of dearly departed loved ones. A nice way to remember those who are no longer on this earth is to do something in their honor. If you and your spouse always had a specific meal on Valentine’s Day, prepare a portion of that meal for yourself. If you exchanged gifts, buy something you know you spouse would have enjoyed and donate it to a worthy cause. You can also honor them in other ways—whether it’s writing down your feelings in a letter or going through pictures of them, find what works for you.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Lent and the Gift of Eternal Love

lent and eternal love

You might notice something interesting about Valentine’s Day. This year, Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday. Now, say what you will about calendar cycles, leap years, etc. but this correlation is actually rather significant. While one event may imply a period of fasting, personal sacrifice, and repentance, the other emphasizes love, happiness, and giving. The juxtaposition and complementary nature of these events is worth mentioning, especially through a bereavement perspective.

Starting with the season of Lent, we are reminded of the intense and painful journey that Christ underwent. The 40 days He spent in the desert were ones of pure temptation and a harsh reminder of His humanity. Christ’s journey was one that turned away from the sin and death of the world and instead walked toward the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. Of course, we honor this journey still today, as many people choose to enter into a personal spiritual journey for the 40 days of Lent by fasting and otherwise making a sacrifice to Christ. This Lenten journey is similar to the journey that is grief. When a loved one dies, so does a part of our heart. Similar to Christ’s journey, grief is the process of turning away from suffering and pain and growing closer to new life. For those who have lost a loved one, this new life is their new reality: life without their loved one. This journey is not an easy one. Just as Jesus was tempted in the desert, those who grieve will have set backs and will struggle at times. But, by looking to Christ as an example, and by remembering the promise of life that lies at the end of the journey, you may find the extra strength you need to carry on.

It’s also important to mention that just as Christ was strengthened by God’s love, so are we strengthened by both God’s love and by the love of our dearly departed loved ones. Love is something that extends beyond death. It cannot be broken by realms. No matter where you are on your grief journey, no matter what you might be feeling on Valentine’s Day, the love you feel for your loved one, and them for you, still exists. We know this because of God’s own eternal love for us, which we hear in scripture time and time again:

Psalm 136:26 Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

Grief is a journey. There are highs and lows. But an important thing to keep in mind as we enter into the season of Lent is that love is on our side. And that is something to celebrate.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

8 Attainable Resolutions for the Bereaved

While we are already a few weeks into 2018, it’s never too late to adopt some new year’s resolutions. For those who have lost a loved one, new year’s resolutions come down to personal preference. For some, the idea of a resolution may seem too overwhelming at the time– similar to starting a new project or chore in the midst of extreme sorrow. For others, resolutions serve as an inspirational and motivational tool that helps them cope with grief and grow as a person. Whether or not you choose to take on a new year’s resolution is entirely up to you and where you are on your grief journey. However, if you are interested in taking on a new year’s resolution, keep reading for some ideas!

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  1. Recognize your strengths

Losing a loved one can install feelings of weakness or helplessness. Start the new year by making a list of your personal strengths, your blessings, and your dreams. Take action and leverage your strengths to accomplish new goals and cope with your grief.

  1. Slow down

Make sure that you aren’t using a busy schedule or work life to cope with your grief. Not only does that make for an unhealthy healing, but it can also be emotionally and physically exhausting. Make a promise in this new year to slow down and take more time for yourself.

  1. Attend a support group

Support groups are a great way to cope with your grief. Sharing experiences within a support group is a way for all involved to grieve in a healthy and constructive way. (Interested in joining a support group? Click here.)

  1. Try a new hobby

It’s never too late to learn something new. If you feel stagnant or if you feel stuck, pick up a new hobby and see where it takes you. Whether it’s photography, sewing, or hiking– find something new to learn and enjoy to bring some excitement in your life.

  1. Get 20 minutes of sunlight or fresh air each day

Fresh air and sunlight can do wonderful things for the mind, body, and spirit. While it may be tempting to stay indoors all day, try to get outside for at least 20 minutes each day. Even if it’s just in your backyard.

  1. Speak your loved one’s name

Keep the memory of your loved one alive in the new year by speaking their name often. The key to grieving is not to forget, but to remember with hope that you will one day be reunited.

  1. Start a journal

Journaling can be a great way to cope with grief and express your emotions. Think of journaling as a personal letter to God. What are you feeling? What are your hopes? Share these with him and see where the journey takes you. Try to make it a daily habit—God likes to hear from us every day.

  1. Be open to happiness

While there will always be a part of you that misses your loved one dearly, never forget to be open to happiness and new experiences. Pay attention to the blessings God has placed in your life, big and small.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Tips for Entering the New Year with Hope and Love

For many of those who are grieving, the concept of a new year may be daunting. Particularly if you have recently lost a loved one, this may be the first year you endure without them in your life. When a loved one passes away, everything changes. What was once familiar now seems foreign and the idea of tackling a new year full of unknowns and uncharted territory can be intimidating and even scary. This feeling is completely normal—even if it’s been years since your loved one passed away. Keep reading for some simple suggestions on how to embrace the New Year with a spirit of hope and love.

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Be kind to yourself

Some people may feel as if expressing grief or admitting that you are struggling emotionally is a sign of weakness. You may become frustrated with yourself and wonder why you can’t just “be happier.” Particularly when the new year approaches, you may be told to take advantage of this fresh start and forget the grief and pain from the past year. While the New Year can certainly be seen as this “fresh start” it is all dependent on where you are in your grief journey. Grief is not a process that can be rushed or skipped over—don’t become discouraged with yourself if you don’t feel a certain way at a certain time. Instead, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a dear friend who recently lost a loved one. Give yourself time to heal. Grief doesn’t have a time limit.

Use a calendar

It’s common after losing a loved one to feel as if every day is the same, as if you’re just going through the motions instead of actually living your life. Another common problem some people face is the good-intentioned invitations from family and friends to go out to dinner, attend an event, etc. in an effort to uplift the griever’s mood, which can be overwhelming to someone who is grieving. To remedy both these issues, it’s a good idea to get a large calendar at the beginning of the year. Start your year by scheduling appointments with yourself. Maybe it’s a Friday night movie, or simply reserving a time for you to read a good book. Whatever the case may be, visualizing your life and scheduling time for you to do the activities that you enjoy will help make your days more meaningful. On a more practical note, scheduling these appointments ahead of time can serve as a polite way to decline an invitation. The best part? If you ever do want to spend time with family or friends, it’s very easy to cancel an appointment with yourself!

Energize your mind and body

Losing a loved one exhausts both your mind and body. This leads to an overall lack of motivation to be active. While it may be hard at first, a good resolution for grievers is to devote some time each day to be physically and emotionally active. Being physically active doesn’t need to be strenuous exercise. It can be as simple as taking a walk around the block, or a short bike ride. To exercise your mind, read a good book or listen to some music that you enjoy. The combination of both mind and body can help you regain a sense of presence and strengthen your resolve. (Hint: Use the calendar mentioned above to schedule these activities in advance!)

Focus on the journey and not the destination

As the old saying suggests, so many people in this world are too focused on reaching a certain destination that they forget to appreciate the journey they take along the way. This same principle can be applied to grief. Many people who are grieving want to skip ahead to a time where they can be completely happy again and obtain acceptance of their loved one’s death. While everyone certainly finds happiness, there will always be a part of their hearts dedicated to their loved one. Grief is not about reaching a level of happiness or acceptance, but rather growing as a person and learning a new way to live. Grief is not a test, but an experience. Entering into this New Year, focus more on what you can learn about yourself, life, or love. Focus less on societal and personal expectations for yourself.

Do some reflective journaling

Journaling can be a very therapeutic and constructive way to work through your grief. At the beginning of the year, write down a few things your loved one would want for you in the coming year. If you have a hard time brainstorming, think about if the roles were reversed—what would you wish for your loved one if you were the one to pass away? Try to think of different states of mind or attitudes you’d want your loved one to practice after your passing and write them down. As the year progresses, look at this list and try pursue those outcomes.

Choose to walk with God each day

Even after following every suggestion and doing your very best, there will still be days when you feel lonely or discouraged. Use these instances to grow closer to Christ. He is the one person who will never leave you or forsake you. He loves you more than you could ever imagine. When you have these bad days, take a step back and spend some time reflecting on God’s eternal love for you.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Emmanuel: God’s Eternal Presence

Emmanuel God's Eternal Presence

During the Christmas season, the word “Emmanuel” is certainly repeated often. Whether it’s during a Mass reading, written on a holiday card, or in the lyrics of a popular Christmas song, we are constantly reminded of Emmanuel. But what exactly does this word mean? To some, the word is synonymous with Jesus Christ, for others Emmanuel is the hope of Christ, or a feeling of anticipation. However, the actual meaning of Emmanuel stems much deeper than either of these theories. Emmanuel actually translates to “God is with us.”

You see, Emmanuel isn’t just a name or phrase: it is a promise. God is with us.

Many of us will be missing cherished loved ones this holiday season. It’s common for those who are grieving to experience an increased sense of loneliness during the holidays. Treasured memories of our loved ones will be vivid in our minds, and the traditions that once were so meaningful may be hard to bear. This is normal, but we must take heart and remember the promise of Emmanuel: God is with us. He is always with us. Even in our most lonely and desperate times, God is close to us. If you find yourself in a state of isolation, reach out to God and ask for His comfort and healing.

It is also important during this time of grief to attend Mass. While God is always with you, attending Mass is a unique opportunity to grow in physical closeness to Christ through the Eucharist. Receiving the blessed sacrament assures that God will live inside you, yet another reminder of His never ending love. Also, it is during the Mass that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Certain portions of the Mass are even dedicated to the souls of those who have died and the saints currently in Heaven. By taking an active part in the Mass, you not only grow closer to Christ, but you have the chance to pray and reconnect with your dearly departed loved ones.

To anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one this season, you are not alone. God is with you.

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Join us on December 17th for our Sunday Grief Support Group. This month’s topic will be “God’s Eternal Presence.”

In a warm, comfortable, and supportive environment, you’ll find a warm fellowship of people with similar grief experiences.
Come. Listen. Be in the presence of those who understand. Available at the following locations:

Holy Cross Cemetery, Akron
Holy Cross Cemetery, Brook Park
St. Joseph Cemetery, Avon

NO RESERVATIONS NECESSARY. Please join us.

More information available at https://www.clecem.org/Events/Calendar.aspx

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Handling the Holidays After Losing a Loved One

The air is getting colder, Halloween is over, and people are starting to flip their calendars to the ever-busy months of November and December. The approaching holiday season is enough to make anyone anxious: the plethora of social and financial obligations can be overwhelming, not to mention the emotional stress that the holidays may bring. This may be especially challenging for those who have lost a loved one. The holidays often are a reminder to people that their loved ones are gone. Therefore, this season can be saddening, or even painful for certain people. While there is no way to reverse or avoid these feelings, there are some things to keep in mind to make the holidays more bearable.

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Take care of yourself
The holiday season can be a time of obligation. It’s easy to get swept up in other people’s schedules. Not only that, but we are also prone to setting certain holiday obligations on ourselves. The holidays are also a time of heightened emotional stress, so it’s important that you take time for yourself and enter the season with realistic expectations of what you can and can’t accomplish. A good way to approach this is to prioritize your tasks and make a list of what you would most like to do. Anything that doesn’t make the list doesn’t need to be done, and you can spend more time to practice self-care.

Modify tradition
After losing a loved one, the idea of maintaining certain traditions or customs may seem too hard to handle. The idea may arouse feelings of sadness or loss that you want to avoid. However, the loss of a loved one should not prevent you from enjoying a holiday or your previous traditions– you may just need to modify them a bit. For example, if the idea of not buying a gift for your loved one this year saddens you, buy a gift that they would have liked and give it to someone who would otherwise not have a gift. If you still celebrate with other family members and opening gifts on Christmas is too hard on you, suggest exchanging gifts a few days after Christmas or on New Year’s. It’s all dependent on what is best for you and your family– don’t be afraid to change things up!

Accept the tears– both happy and sad
Of course, there is nothing you can do to completely erase the sadness that losing a loved one adds to the holidays. You may feel overwhelmed at random times, and tears may come more freely than you think. This is natural and completely okay. However, it’s important to also look past this sadness and remember the happy memories you have of your loved ones. Whether it’s a favorite gift they were given, their favorite holiday movie, or a silly story, try to remember the wonderful moments you shared with them. Instead of becoming downtrodden with grief, celebrate all the joy your loved one brought you during their life!

Focus on the real reason behind the season
Above all this, remember why we celebrate in the first place: Jesus Christ. Focusing on the spiritual element of the holidays can help us put into perspective whatever suffering or hardships we are going through and place them within the context of Christ. Spending some alone time with the Lord and praying for your departed loved one may help you feel more connected during the holiday season. If you’re comfortable, light a candle in honor of your loved one– not as a memorial, but rather as a reminder of the light and joy they brought you while they were on Earth; let that light remind you also of God’s eternal light and the promise of hope he leaves in all our hearts.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Information gathered from: Getting Through the Holidays When You’ve Lost a Loved One by Darcie D. Sims.

Losing a sibling: How to remember and recover

Sibling relationships are seldom simple. There seems to be a natural tendency for these relationships to be simultaneously loving and irksome. All siblings have disagreements and quarrels about silly things, but they are also quick to defend each other and are tied by a very special connection. Having such a close companion your entire life may make the loss of a sibling especially difficult. Even more so, there is a certain stigma surrounding the death of a sibling. Not being a spouse, parent, or child, some may think that the grief is less severe when the opposite might actually be true. You may be expected to take care of others affected by the death instead of taking time to care for yourself. Keep reading for comforting words.

losing a sibling

Respect your grief

As already mentioned, sometimes the death of a sibling can be swept under the rug. You may be busy taking care of your parents, or your siblings’ spouse and you may forget to take care of yourself in the process. Just as mourning the death of anyone else, the intensity and type of grief depends on the person and situation. Give yourself the time and space to grieve the death of your sibling in a way that suits you, and remember that your feelings are valid. Familiarize yourself with the grieving process and what you can expect following the death of a loved one. (Click here for 3 Common behaviors you may experience while grieving)

Deal with feelings of guilt or anger

It’s natural when a sibling dies to feel guilty or angry. Guilt can take many forms, be it survivor’s guilt, an unsettled argument, and many other possible reasons. The idea of survivor’s guilt is especially common among siblings, as they are normally close in age. Thoughts such as “I’m the oldest, I should have died first” or “He was a kinder person, I’m the one who deserved to die” are common examples of survivor’s guilt. While guilt is normal while grieving, long-term guilt can be very destructive. Try to let go of whatever guilt you may feel and focus on the good times you had with your sibling. Anger can also take many forms. You may be mad at yourself, your sibling for leaving you, or even God for taking your sibling away. This is also normal, but like feelings of guilt, extensive anger is not healthy. If you experience severe and prolonged anger or guilt, seeking help from your pastor or mental health professional may be helpful.

Celebrate through memories

Memorialization is an extremely important part of the grieving process. Memorializing someone ensures that their memory lives on for decades and generations, making sure that their memory never dies. Some good ways to memorialize your sibling include passing down special mementos, creating photo albums, or watching home videos. Some people find it helpful to continue a hobby or tradition that is associated with their sibling. Also, it’s important to talk about your sibling and share memories about them. At first this might be hard, but over time it will get easier. Talking about them often will help you heal while also honoring their memory.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Living alone after the death of a spouse

Marriage is a blessed sacrament for a reason. There is no substitution for standing up and confessing your love for another person, all while being showered in the graces of the Holy Spirit. It’s a very beautiful and spiritual experience to be married, which makes the death of a spouse even harder to experience. Marriage is the act of literally sharing your life with someone, physically and spiritually; so when a spouse passes away, it may feel as if a part of yourself has passed away as well. You may not remember what life was like before your spouse, and may be at a total loss on how to carry out your day to day activities. This is normal. Allowing yourself time to grieve and mourn the loss of your spouse is the healthiest thing you can do to assure a healthy transition to life without them. While no one grieves the same way, there are techniques that can help combat feelings of loneliness or desertion following the death of a spouse…

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1. Change can be good.

Living together, couples form certain systems and routines that they perform together, such as making the bed in the morning, going to church each week, or perhaps watching a show at a certain time each night. Immediately following the death of a loved one, and especially a spouse, you may have the tendency to hold onto certain items or routines that remind you of them. With the tragic change that is death, there is a need for certain levels of consistency and normalcy. There is nothing wrong with keeping certain things the same, but it’s also important to recognize that some new routines can be helpful. Whether it’s your morning or nighttime routine, your dinner routine, or even the way you make you coffee, if the old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore, change it! You might be surprised by how empowered and free you may feel with even the smallest of changes.

2. Supplement, don’t replace.

The loneliness felt after the death of a spouse can be hard. After sharing your life with someone and living with them, going home to an empty house at night may feel overwhelming. A great way to combat this feeling is to meet new people. Whether it’s reaching out to family and friends, joining a book club, or attending a Church group, spending time with other people can make you feel more connected and less isolated. While you can never replace your spouse, it’s important to remember the other people you have in your life as well!

3. Appreciate solitude

While it may seem contradictory, having some time to yourself can actually be very beneficial. It gives you time to learn more about yourself, and can open your heart and mind to hearing what God may be trying to tell you. There’s nothing wrong with spending some alone time to figure out who you are as a person, and find out what makes you happy.

Above all else, God is always there for you to listen and comfort. Just as he was present during your marriage ceremony, he is present with you always to offer his grace.

Information gathered from “Living Alone After the Death of a Spouse” by Karen Katafiasz

Post written by Katie Karpinski

3 things men should know about grieving

Grief is much like a natural disaster—it’s unpredictable and doesn’t discriminate. It effects men and women, young and old, rich and poor. The only aspect of grief that can be controlled is how it’s handled by the individual, and that’s where some differences can occur.
While society may be trending towards more accepting gender standards, men are still faced with the constant assumption that “big boys don’t cry.” While this philosophy may work well during a sports game, it shouldn’t be accepted in all facets of life—particularity in regards to grieving. Men have the natural tendency to downplay uncomfortable feelings, expecting the feelings to just go away if ignored long enough. In other cases, men may acknowledge the negative feeling, but still not partake in proper coping mechanisms. Instead of experiencing grief, they try to speed the process which is exactly what NOT to do when grieving. We all need some guidance when it comes to grieving– men might need a little extra. Take a look at these 3 things men should know about grieving. Whether it’s you or someone you know, these tips will assist in a healthy grieving process and hopefully bring some comfort.

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1. Grieving is a process

Men are notorious for finding quick solutions. They are fixers, it’s what they do. To have something broken for too long makes them anxious, which is why grieving can be so difficult for some. When you lose a loved one, part of your heart breaks. Unlike home repair projects, this damage can’t be fixed with super glue or a call to a repairman. It takes time. Grieving is process that requires patience, both with yourself and those around you. It’s important to slow down and understand that you cannot fix this alone, and it won’t mend overnight.

2. It’s okay to not have it “together”

Whether you’re a father, husband, brother, uncle, or even just a close friend, men are often seen as the primary defenders and providers for their family and friends. They are born into leadership roles, and because of this they have people depending on them constantly. This certainly places pressure on men who are trying to be everything to everyone. While grieving, life can become hectic and confusing. Even more so, the emotional and physical turmoil one experiences can be disorienting in themselves. You may feel bad if you can’t be that provider all the time, but do not feel guilty. Instead, embrace your humanity and learn to rely on others as they have always relied on you. Also, don’t forget to rely on God who will never forsake you.

3. It’s okay to cry

Men are taught at a young age that crying is not acceptable. This is mainly attributed to the connection of crying with weakness. However, crying is a sign of strength and courage. Tearing down those emotional barriers and unapologetically expressing your feelings is a brave thing to do. Even more so, crying can be extremely helpful in the grieving process. Crying releases endorphins which can elevate your mood and energy. Crying is also a healthy way to express sadness, anger, or loss—so why keep it in?

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski
Information gathered from “Handling Grief as a Man” by Bob Miller.

3 common behaviors you may experience while grieving

Grieving is a very difficult and personal process. It varies greatly from person to person, scenario to scenario. The way people handle grief is truly specific to the individual; however, there are some common behaviors and symptoms that you may experience while grieving. Understanding these behaviors can help you and those you care about handle grief in a healthy way. Not only that, but knowing that certain behaviors are common can help combat feelings of isolation or loneliness that often emerge after the loss of a loved one. Keep reading to learn more about 3 common behaviors you may experience while grieving.

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1. Change in lifestyle patterns

After the loss of a loved one, it is normal to experience some changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Perhaps, when you try to lie down and go to bed you are greeted with anxious thoughts, or when it’s time for dinner you don’t seem to have an appetite. Whatever the case may be, it is completely normal to have these patterns disrupted. If these symptoms begin to seriously affect your life, counseling or a visit to your doctor can be helpful. However, in most cases these disruptions go away with time.

2. Forgetfulness or Confusion

When you lose someone, you are forced to accept a new reality. This adjustment can be difficult, and can cause confusion or forgetfulness. You are living in a different world, one that you have no experience navigating yet. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself time to readjust. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to friends and family for additional support. Remember that this period of confusion is temporary, and will lessen with time.

3. Physical Responses

Grief is believed by many to be an emotional pain; however, grief can also cause some physical reactions. For example, a tightness in the chest and throat, low energy and weakness, dry mouth, restlessness, and sensitivity to noise and light are all common physical symptoms of grief. These effects may be frustrating at times, and cause you to feel detached or even ill, but just remember these are all temporary conditions. Go easy on yourself and listen to what your body tells you. Just as you need time to mentally and emotionally adjust, your body needs some time to heal as well.

 

 

Information gathered from What’s Really “Normal” When You’re Grieving by Robert Zucker.
Copyright Abby Press, St. Meinrad, Indiana 2004
Post written by Katie Karpinski