On coping with loss during the holidays

By Dan Hall, Idaho State Journal

During the holidays we may become especially sensitive to the losses that we have had in our lives which can lead to grief and depression.

The losses that we may encounter are the death of a loved one, a divorce or separation, family problems, loss of a job, financial problems, the loss of a pet, the loss of our health or the health of a loved one, the loss of future expectations or goals among other losses.

Loss and change is something that we all experience in life and the older we become the more losses we will have encountered. When we experience a sense of loss it is because something that we hold dear to us has been taken from our lives. These losses can be especially difficult when we do not expect the loss or it is unforeseen.

Those who are most resilient to loss and change in their lives have found a way to accept and embrace their losses and transform them into hope for the future. The way each of us expresses our loss is unique to us as an individual. We may become depressed, isolate or experience various emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, stress, shock, despair or numbness.

Sometimes individuals will turn to alcohol or drugs to try to numb their loss. Substance abuse can numb our emotions and keep us from experiencing the normal grieving process that helps us to work through our grief to eventually heal and gain hope in our lives.

In times of grief and sorrow it is helpful to connect with our spiritual and cultural beliefs that transcend this life and give us hope for the future.

The following principles of transforming grief and loss into hope are taken from a workshop on Transforming Grief and Loss into meaning and hope given by Ligia M. Houben, MA, FT, FAAGC, CPC, CHT.

Houben is the founder of My Meaningful Life, LLC and the executive director of The Center for Transforming Lives in Miami, Florida.

Principle 1: Accept your loss: Acceptance is not being glad about the loss but coming to terms with the reality of the loss.

Principle 2: Live your grief: What we ignore doesn’t cease to exist…it is only repressed. [Ligia M. Houben]

Principle 3: Go deeper into your spiritual dimension: Prayer, Meditation, Sweat, Spiritual readings are nourishment for the soul.

Principle 4: Express your feelings: Find a loving, caring person who you trust and with whom you can confide your heart felt feelings and who will listen carefully and accept where you are at with your emotions without judging you.

Principle 5: Share with others: Share with others your losses and reach out to help others who are experiencing similar losses and grief and focus on helping them.

Principle 6: Take care of yourself: Body, Mind and Spirit. Healing takes time and is unique and individual. Don’t rush the process!

Principle 7: Use Rituals: Draw strength from your spiritual traditions including prayer, meditation, cultural traditions and ceremonies: Sweat, Songs, Traditional Dances and Dress, Drumming, Sun Dance, Oral Histories and Traditions. Keep a journal or make a book of remembrance of the person that you love in order to treasure their teachings and the meaning of their life, and the purpose that you have learned from them. Be grateful for the time you have shared together.

Principle 8: Live the present: The present moment is a gift to be cherished! Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t worry about the future. Live the NOW!

Principle 9: Modify your thoughts: In life we experience difficult situations but everything depends on our response to them. The meaning we give to a loss in our lives is determined by our response to that loss. The loss can help us treasure what is most important and meaningful in our lives. Be grateful for the time that you have spent together rather than to have never known such great love, meaning or purpose in your life.

Principle 10: Rebuild your world: Grieving is the act of affirming and reconstructing a personal world of meaning and hope that is forever transformed. [Robert Neimeyer] Build more meaning, purpose and hope into your life from the new understanding you have gained from the loss that you have experienced.

Principle 11: Visualize the life you want: See yourself a year or two from now contributing to your family, friends and humanity the new meaning, purpose and hope that you have gained through your loss. “Probably you do not choose to suffer, but you can choose the option to transform your suffering into a meaningful life.” [Sameet M. Kumar].

During this holiday season take time to be grateful for all of your relationships — past and present, lessons learned and the spiritual significance of what has been taught and treasure the present!

As you reach out to show love and appreciation for those around you let them know of your gratitude to have them as a part of your life. Take time to treasure your own life and give yourself time to take care of your own spiritual and physical needs for nutrition, rest, exercise and spiritual and social connection.

Laugh, Love and Live the present moment!If you find that your grief and loss exceeds your ability to cope effectively — reach out for help! It is a sign of strength and understanding to ask for help from caring family members, spiritual leaders or a trusted counselor.

There are caring counselors in our community who can assist you with transforming your grief into a more meaningful life filled with hope and purpose for the future.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-Talk(8255). Veterans will press “1.”

The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-398-Help(4357) — you can call or text. The Idaho Suicide Prevention Crisis Chat is at idahosuicideprevention.org.

Dan Hall lives in Pocatello. He currently works as a social worker in Fort Hall.