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

A Self-Care Guide for the Bereaved

When a death occurs, priorities shift. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with your emotions and the impeding tasks that follow the loss of a loved one. During this painful time, taking care of yourself may be the last thing on your mind. You may feel as if there are too many things to do, too many people to care for, and too little time to complete it all. Even after the initial flurry of activities following the death of your loved one, and into the subsequent years, you may still feel the heaviness and weight of grief albeit less frequently but just as draining upon your emotional and physical self. However, taking care of yourself during a time of grief is critical to truly healing and overcoming the obstacles associated with losing a loved one. Keep reading to learn about 3 steps you can take toward better self-care today.

self care for the bereaved

1. Take care of your body

The body and mind are very closely related. This is why, while grief may traditionally be known as an emotional pain, there is also an element of physical pain or unbalance that is experienced following the death of a loved one. Therefore, taking steps to improve your physical health can be beneficial not only for general wellness, but also in terms of working through your grief. Getting a full night’s sleep, eating healthy foods, and moderate exercise are all great steps toward physical wellness. In some cases, a visit to your doctor for a checkup may be good idea. It all depends on you and your body’s unique reaction to grief.

2. Be kind to yourself

While grieving, it’s important to treat yourself like your own best friend. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that needs to be done, and you may even blame yourself if things aren’t being completed on time or don’t go as planned. Instead of discouraging yourself, remember that you are only human. Take some time to do things you enjoy. Give yourself breaks and learn to say no to events or obligations you simply don’t have time for. Learn how to pamper yourself, and find something to do that makes you happy. Maybe it’s reading a good book or watching your favorite movie. Perhaps taking a nice bath with aroma therapy soaps or mediation can help. Whatever the case may be, find what works for you. It’s important to mention that many people turn to being busy as a way to cope with their grief. However, all that does is push your grief to the side and distract you from the pain you need to work through. By taking breaks and avoiding the “busy trap”, you can actually learn to work through your grief instead of ignoring it, all while practicing better self-care along the way!

3. Reflect and connect

While slightly contradictory, one of the best ways to practice self-care involves turning your attention to others. First, while it may be tempting to push the painful feelings of loss to the side and try to go about a normal day, it’s important that you accept these feelings associated with loss. Reflecting on the life of your loved one is a great thing that can bring about healing and acceptance. Some common reflection exercises include writing down ten things you miss about them, or your favorite memories with them. Maybe it’s simply talking about your loved one with others, or creating some type of memorial for them. Whatever the case may be, allow yourself to enter into whatever it is you may be feeling. Finally, use this opportunity to connect with others, and to connect with Christ. Grief is not a journey that needs to be done alone. Reaching out to a trusted friend, family-member, church leader, or local support group are great ways to reconnect and provide yourself with a support system to assist you through your grief journey. Of course, constant prayer and communication with God is the best way to take care of yourself and your grief. God is a source of never-ending and never-failing love. He alone can truly heal you.

Interested in joining a grief support group? Visit our website for more information.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Springing Forward: Where are you on your grief journey?

Springing Forward.jpg

Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. While we may still have a few weeks of chilly weather, the grass is getting a little greener and the sun a little brighter. Soon we will be setting our clocks forward, which serves as yet another indicator that we are entering into a new season, a new time. Spring is a time of renewal and fresh starts. The earth itself seems to shake the snow from winter and instead welcome warm breezes and nourishing spring rain. For the bereaved, spring can be a challenging time. The cold weather of winter makes it easy for us to stay inside and ignore the outside world. In a way, winter weather mirrors our own feelings. It’s isolating and cold—it doesn’t allow for new growth or change. It’s stagnant.

It’s common during the grieving process to crave consistency. The death of a loved one is a traumatic change and makes some of us nervous about any type of change. We may hold onto the sadness and loneliness we feel immediately after the loss of loved one in an effort to maintain some sort of constant, no matter how negative or destructive this constant is. Many of us may even feel guilty for trying to move on, as we fall prey to the distorted belief that working past the sadness and grief would mean to forget our loved ones or imply that they are no longer important to us. This simply isn’t the case.

It is possible to remember and love your dearly departed loved ones without being in a state of constant grief. This can be a hard concept to grasp, and even harder to practice. However, it’s important to give yourself a chance for future happiness. Spring is a fitting time to reevaluate where you are on your grief journey and plan steps to make sure you are continually progressing. These steps can be as large or as small as you’d like them to be, as long as you are progressing and growing in the process.

If you’re still struggling in progressing through your grief journey, don’t forget that God calls us all to experience joy and happiness!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”- Romans 15:13

 “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”-Nehemiah 8:10

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”-John 16:22

You see, grief is a part of life. It’s something all of us will journey through. Keep in mind what a journey is—something that is full of change, unpredictability, and growth. This journey may have some setbacks and challenges, but don’t let them discourage you. Instead, focus on what you can learn from these setbacks. Take advantage of this spring season to learn more about yourself, your grief, and what you can do moving forward.

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