TWU professor offers help to the hurting during the holidays
DENTON — The holidays can be tough on those who have lost a loved one. A traditional time of celebration may become a time to “get through” or avoid altogether.
Dr. Susan Adams, associate professor of counseling and development at Texas Woman’s University, says any holiday can be difficult for those who have suffered a loss. She regularly conducts grief seminars to give survivors the tools to cope with that loss.
“Many times, people think if they let go of their sadness, they will lose the memory,” she said. “They often get stuck in their grief.”
Some try to avoid the holidays altogether. Dr. Adams cautions against trying to run from the pain, saying one of her goals in the seminar is to “help people understand that we have to deal with our pain. The further away we try to push it, the more it becomes our focal point.”
Holiday traditions are routine for many, she said. As the family approaches the holidays, there is a pervasive sadness because their loved one is not here.
“While traditions can be maintained, trying to do things ‘exactly like we’ve always done them’ can increase the pain because someone is missing from the activities,” Dr. Adams said. “Small changes — such as changing the order of things, eating different foods or doing different things — can allow time to not only incorporate past memories, but to also create new traditions.”
Others deal with their grief in different ways.
“People frequently cover up the void of the ‘empty moments’ with excessive activities, like work, or excessive sleeping to avoid the pain,” Dr. Adams said. “Unfortunately, people may engage in unhealthy activities, such as using alcohol or drugs to anesthetize the pain.”
Instead, Dr. Adams suggests that people find ways to incorporate the memory of the loved one. By acknowledging the pain, she said, you give yourself permission to remember the person, to honor the pain of the loss and to embrace all of the memory of the person — not just the painful memories.
“The goal of healthy grieving is never to ‘get over’ the loss, because this is not something you ever get over,” she said. “Life as you know it has forever changed, but you can find a new way to live and incorporate the presence of the person into your future. It won’t be the physical presence, but it can be the influence that lives on in our hearts and minds.”
page updated 1/9/2015 1:57 PM