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Journal Entry

When season’s joy is tempered by grief, plenty of help is available

Earlier this month, a friend posted photos of his Christmas tree from last year on Facebook. It’s a gorgeous tree, decorated in gold and red. But this year, like last, it has (an emotional) blue tarp over it.

My friend lost his life partner a year ago May, and things just aren’t the same since.

I get it, as I’m going through my second Christmas since my boyfriend was killed Oct. 4, 2012, in a motorcycle crash. This year is, actually, harder than last.

My response to his post was “You do what you believe is best for you.” According to Bonnie Davis, bereavement coordinator for Visiting Nurse, that was spot on. Who knew?

But, seriously, the holidays are tough enough, even in the best of times. Add stress from the emptiness caused by a loss and it’s nearly paralyzing to think of getting all gussied up and celebrating.

The first thing anyone who knows someone going through grief at the holidays should remember is this: Keep the advice to a minimum.

“That’s probably one of the biggest problems of a person who is grieving, all the advice,” Davis said.

And the first thing someone suffering grief at the holidays should know: Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

“There are a lot of expectations this time of year,” Davis said. “The best you can do is, allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Do what feels comfortable for you.”

And know, if you aren’t feeling like “doing” the holidays, there is nothing wrong with you, she said.

Of course, if avoiding the holidays isn’t possible (and, with all our loving friends and family, how can it be?), take a look at your traditions.

“If you have (a tradition) that is just too painful to follow that first or second year,” don’t do it, Davis said. “Keep the traditions that are comfortable to you and allow yourself to just put them on hold for another year.”

And include your lost loved one in your holiday somehow.

“Try not to just deny they ever existed. Include them. Tell the stories. Share the pictures,” she said. “Sure, it’s going to cause some tears, but it’s OK to just allow that person into your holidays.”

And what can friends and family do?

“First of all, listen. Listen without advice. That’s the most helpful thing,” she said. By all means, do not try to fix it.

“Even as a grief counselor, I admit to everyone, ‘I cannot fix this for you. But, I can listen and I can support you,’ ” she said.

The grieving person doesn’t want someone to fix it. So, just as Davis advises, walk along side of us when we’re experiencing it, and if you can’t help but to want to dispense advice then, please, consider walking quietly beside us.

And, if you’re grieving, know there is help out there.

If you’re lost and want to find support, contact a local funeral director. Or visit and type in your ZIP code for a list of resources near you.

Joyce McCartney is an assistant metro editor at The Journal Gazette.