Not just Prince and David Bowie: Professor Offers Tips in Getting Through the Holidays for Those Who Lost a Loved One in 2016

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National Louis University professor shares what the bereaved, as well as those who want to support them, can do

David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Nancy Reagan and Fidel Castro all passed away in 2016. So did fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, siblings and friends of people everywhere. More than 2.6 million people died in the U.S. this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This leaves behind an estimated 8 million family members and friends who may be having a tough time this holiday season.

National Louis University Associate Professor David SanFilippo, Ph.D., says those who are left behind may confront a confusing mix of feelings, from remorse and emptiness to bittersweet memories of holidays past.

SanFilippo, an associate professor who teaches courses on death, dying and consciousness, has provided tips for those experiencing grief and loss more than merriment. He is available for interviews.

Survivors are going through either the initial, all-consuming emotions of grief or, when those subside, a bereavement period. Bereavement has no set time frame and can last for months, years or decades. Throughout the bereavement period, grief may return in waves of emotion brought on by memories and reminders of the lost loved one. Holidays are major events that cause the “waves” to crest at high points, leaving the bereaved person in the troughs of sadness, yearning, despair and regret of lost opportunities.

As survivors navigate through the holiday season and the grief they are feeling, SanFilippo suggests they honor whatever feelings may surface.

“They are real feelings and should be recognized,” SanFilippo said. “Everyone grieves in their own way and should be allowed to grieve in their own manner and time, as long as the grieving process does not become harmful to the bereaved or others.”

Signs that grieving may become harmful include disbelief that the loved one is really gone, alcohol and drug use, inability to function in daily life and/or a feeling life has become meaningless.

Here are suggestions for navigating the waves of grief during the holidays:

1.    Set your own pace about becoming involved in the season and its traditions and rituals. Some survivors may want to sit out the holidays this year, and if it feels right to them, they should have that choice. Other survivors may try to immerse themselves in the spiritual or joyful dimension of the holidays, to allow children, family members or just themselves to enjoy the season. Still other survivors will feel most comfortable with a muted celebration, a type of nod to the holiday season while acknowledging their state of bereavement.
2.    Allow yourself to feel your emotions and acknowledge their intensity and depth. Survivors should know it’s okay to cry, and to feel sad or empty. It’s okay to feel the shock that an important person in one’s life is missing. It’s also okay to feel joy in the spirit of goodness that many find in the holidays, the love of those still alive and the gratitude of all the holidays spent with the departed loved one.
3.    Let people help you. Sometimes the gift to others is in allowing them to help us during periods of grief. Remember that a bereaved person’s tender emotions touch others, even if they didn’t know the departed loved one well. This is also the time for the bereaved to tap into their support system, such as friends from the neighborhood or place of worship, or develop a support system, such as a grief support group.
4.    Develop new traditions or rituals that celebrate the living and remember the departed. For example, families could light a candle to cherish lost loved ones and honor their presence at holidays in the past.

To see the full list of tips visit http://www.nl.edu/holidaygrief

For those who are walking with a loved one or friend on their bereavement journey, the most important thing one can do is to actively listen and be there when they reach out. Support people must be mindful that each bereaved person’s grieving process is personal and may be influenced by many factors such as age, education, relationships, culture, religion, how close they were to the deceased and whether they had unresolved issues with the deceased.

About National Louis University
Founded in 1886, National Louis is a nonprofit, non-denominational University offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in fields of education, management, human services, counseling, public policy, and others concerned with human and community development. From its inception, National Louis has provided educational access to adult, immigrant and minority populations – a mission it sustains today. National Louis is well-known for an exceptional history in teacher preparation, and continues to be a leader in educating future teachers and community leaders to succeed in urban environments. For more information, visit http://www.nl.edu.

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Kellie Kennedy
The Harbinger Group
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