Grieving the loss of a loved one can be profoundly difficult, especially during the holiday season when families gather together to celebrate traditions that once included their lost loved ones.
On Tuesday, Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Grief Program will hold its annual Grief and the Holidays event from 7-9 p.m. at the University of Utah College of Nursing Eccles Auditorium located at 10 S. 2000 East. The event is free to the public and will include speakers and musical numbers. It can also be viewed online through Zoom.
“The holidays mean an uptick in traditions and family gathering, which kind of shine a light on the reality that someone is missing,” said Laura Bradbury, project coordinator for Caring Connections. “A time that is warm and comforting under normal circumstances is now a very difficult thing when a person is grieving.”
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Bradbury said it’s very important for people who are grieving to practice self-care measures during the holidays.
“Be extra compassionate to yourself and remember to be extra gentle, and if you will be with someone who just experienced a loss, don’t force them to do things they’re not ready to do. Give them a lot of support,” she said.
Bradbury said whether the loss is a person or a beloved pet, people grieve differently and at their own pace, so it’s important to take things slow and think ahead.
“If you don’t want to attend a holiday party with a lot of people, maybe you could go and help set up for the party ahead of time and then leave,” she said. “Or maybe you could attend for 30 minutes and have an exit strategy if you need one. And if you don’t feel like going at all, that’s perfectly OK too.”
In the case of pet loss, Bradbury said creating some special pet memorials can be comforting.
“I had an older client who lost several pets during the course of her life. She had one of those multiple picture frames and filled it with photos of her pets during Christmastime. She got it out each year and displayed it on her wall,” she said. “It was her little holiday pet memorial.”
Bradbury also said it’s important for people to ask a grieving person how they are doing and to remember their loved one by name. Let them know you are there for them and will support them during the holidays.
In addition, try not to say things that might be hurtful to a grieving person.
“Don’t say it was just your pet and not a human being,” Bradbury said. “Grief is no respecter of persons. It can be heavy no matter the type of loss.”
Bradbury also said it’s inappropriate to tell a woman who lost a child that they’re young enough to have another baby or that they still have other children.
“Or that they will find another spouse or they can get another pet,” she said. “Some people are also hurt when others tell them God needed another angel or it’s time for you to move on now. We live in a world that wants the microwave version of grief. In other words, take two or three days of grieving and then go back to life the way it was before. That’s not realistic. For a person experiencing a loss, their lives are changed forever.”
Bradbury said self-care is tricky and doesn’t always include a massage or pedicure, although both can be very relaxing. Self-care is more about self understanding and self awareness, she said.
“Recognize what you need right now. Maybe it’s not to engage with the world for a while. Maybe it’s eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest. Ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now?’ and then find a way to fulfill that need. It may be to sit at your desk and look at pictures of the loved one you just lost. Maybe it’s a good cry,” she said. “Every day will be a little different, so take things one day at a time.”
For more information about the event, go to uofuhealth.utah.edu/calendar. A zoom link is provided on the web page.