Preparing for the Holiday Season: A 3-Step Bereavement Guide

October is the last month we have before the crazy holiday rush. As if the approach of the holidays wasn’t stressful enough, this busy time is even more consuming for those who have recently lost a loved one. Taking some time this October to reflect on your grief and how the holidays might impact you is key to not only surviving through the holidays—but finding joy in them as well. The key is to plan ahead and be honest with yourself throughout the planning process. Keep reading to learn more about three simple steps you can take in preparation for the holiday season.

Oct 2018 Bereavement

Realize that the holidays will be different

First, it’s important to understand that the holidays will undoubtedly be different. Sure, the snow may still fall and the radio will still be playing Christmas carols, but after losing a loved one the holidays will never be as they once were. Simply realizing this can help you approach the holidays with a healthier attitude. It is okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be sad or angry. It’s okay to change tradition. Instead of placing pressure on yourself to maintain holiday cheer, be honest with yourself about how your feeling. The holidays will be different no matter what—instead of fighting this, lean into it and discover what you feel most comfortable with during this stage of your grief journey.

Have a (flexible) action plan

Once you’re honest with yourself about how you’re feeling about the holidays, it’s easier to create an action plan. Having a plan in place before the holiday rush begins can help you get organized and better prepare for the stressful season. Making decisions such as who you will be spending the holidays with, whether or not you will be purchasing gifts, baking cookies, etc. beforehand eliminate additional worry later on. Sometimes it’s a good idea to schedule “self-dates” ahead of time as well, providing yourself an easy excuse if attending a certain holiday party is too much to handle. It’s good to plan, but it’s also good to remain flexible as the season unfolds. You may feel better or worse depending on the day or the people you’re with. Just remember—do what you feel most comfortable with.

Celebrate the season and your loved ones

This last step is surely the hardest. For those who are grieving, the holidays are surely a time of remembrance and loss. However, the holidays are also a time of great joy and celebration. As Catholics, Christmas is a time for us to celebrate the birth of Christ and His coming down to Earth so that we may be saved. If you’re still having a hard time finding joy in the season, imagine if you switched roles with your departed loved one. Wouldn’t you want them to be happy during the holidays? Finding joy in the season doesn’t mean you love or miss your loved one any less. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to include them in the eternal celebration of Christ. Making their favorite Christmas cookie, playing their favorite carol, or creating a remembrance ornament are all great ways to include your departed loved ones in the celebration of Christmas. Remember that no matter how dark or desperate your situation seems, there is always hope to be found in Christ our King.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Experiencing Grief as a Family

Family dynamics are complex. They are made even more complex when families share the loss of a loved one. Being in such a fragile state, it can be easy to grow frustrated with yourself and each other. While grief will never be an easy journey, there are some things to keep in mind while grieving as a family that can make the journey a little smoother…

Experiencing Grief as a Family

It’s always important to remember that people grieve differently. There are several factors that contribute to how someone grieves, including their age, emotional temperament, and their relationship to the person who passed away. For instance, the way a woman mourns the loss of her spouse is much different than the way a child would mourn for their father. Whereas a spouse may be concerned about how to assume household responsibilities and may mourn the loss of romantic love, a child may be more concerned with the entire idea of death and the loss of parental love. Even those who hold the same role in family, such as two parents who tragically lose a child, may mourn differently due to their personal traits and experiences. It’s important that you remember the fundamental differences that exist from person to person, and be sensitive to these differences. While you may be grieving the same person, this person holds a unique place in each of your hearts.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to avoid comparisons. It’s one thing to support each other by understanding and tolerating differences, but you must also be careful to not benchmark or compare grief experiences. Comparison only leads to more emotional turmoil, and is never healthy. Just remember:

No one grieves in the same way

While one family member may express their grief more physically by crying, other family members may feel more comfortable keeping those feelings reserved. Likewise, some people enjoy being around others while grieving, whereas others prefer to be left alone. There are countless other examples, all of which can vary from person to person.

There is no universal timeline for grief

Family members will work through their grief at their own pace. It all depends on the person and the unique situation.

While members of a family may have completely different grief experiences, there are ways you can help and support each other. Communicating often and openly is always a healthy exercise. Sharing with your family how you’re feeling, and listening to their own thoughts and feelings, can help you sympathize with each other. Another activity family can do together is find time to pray. While everyone may have different experiences, feelings, and personalities everyone has common ground in Christ.

Interested in joining a grief support group? Our groups meet the 3rd Sunday of every month. For more information, please visit https://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Understanding the Attributes of God During Times of Grief

Everyone views God in a different light. For some, God the Father provides the most comfort and guidance with His all-knowing wisdom and never-ending power. For others, Jesus Christ and His deep compassion and connection to humanity make Him most approachable. And even still there are those who prefer speaking with the calm and gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic faith is beautiful in that, while we only worship one true God, there are these three Persons we can interact with, and each may speak to us in different ways. These three parts all have unique attributes and it’s from these attributes of God that we can derive comfort, support and guidance. Keep reading to learn more about how understanding God’s attributes can help you progress along your grief journey.

Understanding the Attributes of God during times of Grief

God is Omnipresent and Omniscient

While grieving, it’s common to feel isolated and alone. Grief is particular and specific to the individual, which makes the pain hard to talk about with others. Despite how alone you may feel at times, remember that God is always with you. He is all-present and all-knowing. He knows the thoughts, sorrows, and desires of your heart intimately. When you feel most alone, take heart in knowing the Heavenly Father knows exactly how you feel, and will never leave you or forsake you.

You will seek me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13

God is Kind

Losing a loved one can feel like a betrayal. God places family and friends in our lives and then takes them away just as easily. It’s easy to become upset and angry with God but, as scripture proves to us, God is not of ill-intent. He treats all of His children with kindness and everything He does is within our best interests. Remembering this in times of great hardship is key to discovering blessings within the depths of deep despair. God does nothing to cause us pain. Rather, He places challenges in our lives to make us stronger and help us grow closer to Him.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. – Psalm 103:8  

God is Merciful

Part of the struggle of grieving is not knowing the fate of loved ones. There’s no way we can know exactly what follows death. While scripture and Catholic teaching can give us some idea, this uncertainty can augment our grief even more. While this may be frustrating, one thing we know for certain is that God is merciful. He brings each and every one of us into this world and He is there to guide us into His heavenly kingdom. He owes us nothing, but through His never-ending mercy we are all saved. Recognize that, no matter how spiritual or devoted your loved one was or wasn’t, they are resting in God’s eternal and merciful care.

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing and rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:5  

God is Loving

The people we hold closest to us are often the same ones who provide us with the most love and support in our life.  Therefore, when a loved one passes from this world, it’s common to feel an absence of love and comfort in your life. While it may be true that earthly love may diminish, heavenly love is eternal. The love you share with your departed family members and friends is never-ending. Even through death, you can share that special connection with them. Even more so, God holds unique and passionate love with each and every one of us. His love is unlike anything else in this world. In times when you feel most lonely, remember that God loves you always.

His love and faithfulness will last forever. – Psalm 100:5

God is perfect

Death does not discriminate. It does not follow any rules. It often isn’t fair and comes at inopportune times. Death is a confusing and unpredictable occurrence here on Earth, which makes it not only scary, but extremely frustrating and disheartening. While we may never fully understand death, we do understand that God and His plan are perfect. We will never be able to predict death or comprehend when or why it happens. We’re not supposed to. Instead, we should be focused on trusting in God’s plan for us. Calling to mind the traits He possesses—being all present, kind, merciful, loving, and perfect —it’s clear His plan is what’s best for us and our eternal salvation.

The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without justice, Righteous and upright is He. – Deuteronomy 32:4

Are you interested in attending a support group? Click here for more information.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Planning a Vacation While Grieving

For some, the idea of planning a trip may be incredibly overwhelming following the death of a loved one. However, taking a vacation, regardless of how grandiose or modest it may be, can be extremely beneficial for those struggling with grief. Traveling to new places provides a fresh perspective, and seeing the world on a larger scale can help fight feelings of isolation one may feel while grieving. It shows you that there is a world outside of your grief—one that is still full of new opportunities and joys! This is easier said than done, so keep reading to learn more about how you can make your vacations and travels a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable.

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Set realistic expectations

It’s easy to get carried away when planning a vacation. Brochures and commercials are filled with perfect images of smiling people and sunny weather. While vacations are certainly intended to be fun and exciting, after losing a loved one it’s important that you set realistic expectations. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Grief can drain a lot of your energy, so make sure you don’t plan too many energy-dependent activities. In most cases, a more relaxing vacation is most appropriate after a recent loss, such as a spa day, camping trip, or a quiet weekend at a bed and breakfast.

Be flexible

Grieving is a dynamic and unpredictable journey. No matter where you are on your personal journey, your emotions, mood, and energy can all change dramatically without warning. That’s why, when planning a vacation, it’s important to be patient and flexible with yourself. Don’t plan anything that can’t be easily cancelled or rescheduled, and it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. In some cases, it may be good idea to plan a few different vacations, then see which fits best as the date gets closer. Having options takes some of the pressure off vacationing, and provides a more relaxed perspective on the whole process.

Communicate

Communication is undoubtedly one of the most important elements of journeying through grief, regardless of whether or not you choose to travel. However, if you do decide to vacation, communication becomes even more important. For those traveling with family, it’s important to be open and honest with each other. Everyone grieves differently. Certain activities or memories that may not be painful to you may be painful to someone else and vice versa. Therefore, talk about what you have planned for the trip and make sure everyone is comfortable. It may be helpful to plan activities specific to each family member to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. It’s always a good idea to communicate with God as well. Share your feelings, fears, and joys. He will be accompanying you on whatever journey you choose to go on.

The first vacation following the death of a loved will be the most difficult as the absence of the deceased person will be felt at its highest level. This pain will lessen with time, and just knowing this and anticipating the challenge will ease the current pain you feel and hopefully make it more tolerable. The pain is actually the love you feel for the absent person.  The stronger the love, the stronger the pain.  And everywhere love goes, grief goes too. So know that you will feel the absence even in another place, and be prepared to greet it and welcome it as part of the healing process.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Handling Special Occasions: A Simple 3-Step Guide for the Bereaved

Grieving is a difficult process. It’s one of the hardest experiences we endure throughout our lifetime. While losing a loved one may be hard to comprehend even on a typical day, remembering this loss on days of special importance can take an even larger toll. Since events such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions are usually spent with those closest to us, after losing a loved one these days may be hard to bear, as they bring with them memories of our departed loved ones and serve as a reminder of their passing. Much like the seasons, these days will come each year. The key is not to run away or avoid them, but to embrace them for what they are. It may be hard at first, but with time you can come to appreciate these special days and the memories you shared with your loved one. To help handle the tough times, just remember to feel, react, and reconnect. Keep reading to learn more…

hanlding special occasions

  1. Feel

The most important part of grieving, whether it’s on a notable day or not, is to allow yourself to experience your emotions fully. Often, you may feel pressured to put on a brave face and act like everything is okay—even when it isn’t. This is especially common on holidays, as you may try to maintain some sense of normalcy. Sometimes, you may feel like expressing sadness is a sign of weakness, and prefer that others view you as your “usual self.” This isn’t just limited to feelings of sadness, either. It’s common to experience a plethora of emotions surrounding the death of a loved one. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a few days or a few years—there will be days when you feel confused, hurt, sad, and even angry. Don’t try to cover up these emotions. Instead, allow yourself to fully express how you feel.

  1. React

After expressing your emotions, the next step is to respond accordingly. If you’re too flustered or overwhelmed to have your usual 4th of July BBQ, then suggest that someone else host it this year. If the anniversary of your loved one’s death is coming up and you’re experiencing extreme loneliness or sadness, spend the day remembering them. Maybe make their favorite meal, or watch their favorite movie. Whatever the case may be, being in tune with your emotions can help you prepare for these special occasions, and help you plan ahead. Instead of planning the day according to other’s expectations, do what you feel most comfortable with and what will bring you the most peace. On certain days, it may be a good idea to treat yourself to something special, perhaps a relaxing massage or an extra piece of chocolate cake. An important part of the grieving process is being kind to yourself—something that many of us forget!

  1. Reconnect

Grieving can be a lonely process. Since the emotions you feel are so specific to you and your situation, you may feel like no one on earth can understand what you’re going through. Sometimes, this can cause you to push people away in an effort to handle your grief on your own. It’s true that others may not be able to empathize with your unique grief, but it’s important to stay connected with those closest to you. While holidays and special occasions may be hard to handle, they are still days to celebrate with family and friends. Making an effort to reconnect with those around you can help diminish those feelings of loneliness or sorrow, and remind you that life can still be filled with joy and celebration. Even more important than reconnecting with family and friends, however, is reconnecting with God. He is the only one who will know exactly what you’re feeling, and the only one who will never leave you. During the hardest days of grieving, turn to the Lord for strength and comfort, and never lose sight of the eternal hope He offers each of us.

Post written by Katie Karpinski