Holidays sans happiness

How to deal with grief during winter holidays

Winter holidays carry with them a pressure to be happy; to smile in pictures, to give presents, to express love, to energetically bounce from event to event. And for those mourning the death of a loved one, the pressure can be suffocating.

Last week, Caring Connections, a University of Utah organization that aims to serve mourners, held a free event about mourning during the holidays. Speakers at the event, which had a massive turnout, included Kathie Supiano and Paul Cardall.

Supiano focused on expectations, and being mindful of your thoughts and actions during the upcoming holidays. She recommended that mourners relieve themselves of the pressure to be happy. “In fact,” she said, “for many of you I doubt the holidays will be joyful this year.”

Supiano asked attendees to do three things this holiday season. First, she said, focus on yourself. Using an analogy about how in an airplane crash you put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, Supiano implored mourners to be selfish. Focus on your needs, and do not ask more of yourself than is necessary.

Second, she asked that attendees consider those around them also mourning. It is impossible to understand what a mourner is going through, even if you are close to that person. She asked that bereavers be patient and forego traditions that add unnecessary stress.

Finally, she asked audience members to take time to think about the departed. What would they want you to do this holiday? Let this thought give you the permission to enjoy yourself.

Cardall, a musician and author, followed Supiano. Cardall’s speech was mostly autobiographical; he has dealt with the death of many loved ones during his lifetime, and for most of his life expected to die young because of a congenital heart defect. Though Cardall’s speech didn’t include as much direct advice as Supiano’s, here are a few highlights:

  • There isn’t much that those hoping to comfort bereavers can say, but a hug can do wonders.
  • Though it is important to be honest about how you’re feeling, attempting optimism can be a powerful thing. He mentioned that the simple act of smiling can save a mourner from constant depression.
  • Try to avoid survivor’s guilt. Especially when a death is unexpected, it is tempting to focus on why you are still alive while they are not. There is nothing beneficial about this.
  • Self-expression, in Cardall’s case through music, can be healing. Bottling up emotion is, in the long run, very damaging.
  • Cardall emphasized service as a healing act. Helping others in a worse situation than yourself can change your perspective, becoming a healthy way to distance yourself from your own sadness.

Though the event was put together with good, all-inclusive intentions, it became increasingly obvious that in Utah, even finding help with grief can be difficult if you don’t identify with the predominant culture.

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