Winnie's Blog

December 2011

Christmas Grief



 Christmas really can be a wonderful time of year. It?s a time when families and friends make the time to reconnect, our homes and streets are decorated with lights and greenery and people pause to remember to help others in need. It of course, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who brings hope and peace to a lost world.

However, as a marriage and family therapist, I also am aware that Christmas can be an incredibly painful time for many. We must be careful not to minimize the pain this season brings some people. Firstly, there are relationship stressors that seem to just jump off the page this time of year. Whether it is watching Christmas movies of perfect families when you?re struggling to stay in an unhappy marriage or sitting around the table eating turkey with people (family) that you?d rather not be around ? the unreasonable pressure for Christmas to be "perfect? can make the season less than bright.

Secondly, grief at Christmas time is so very real, conjuring up many memories. Christmas, like no other holiday is about family and sharing. A little like salt on the wound, knowing that it?s Christmas once again reminds us that there is an empty place setting. Who will carve the turkey now that dad is not here? Who will pass out the gifts? Whether our loss is experienced through death, divorce, distance or dementia ? the gap in our lives is felt.

If you are experiencing grief or loss this season, here is a little help.

  1. Allow yourself to be sad. Sometimes we feel guilty for grieving. We don?t want to "bum? everyone else out on a day that is meant to be happy. If you have been the primary joy-maker, baker, decorator for past Christmas times, this is especially difficult; You carry pressure to make the day perfect ? when all you want to do is cry. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. It is totally normal.
  2. Adjust your expectations. If you have lost a significant loved one, it is going to take a long time for your Christmas to feel "normal? again. Accept and expect that this will be a process and communicate this to your loved ones.
  3. Keep it Simple. In the words of columnist, Stacie Ruth Stoelting in her column, Coping with Grief at Christmas, "Take a hands off and hands folded approach to the holidays. Reduce activity, increase prayer and companionship.? After losing her husband, one woman who was an avid baker, stopped baking all together during the holidays. The activity just reminded her of her loss. As a result, her kids took up the activity and even now years later; her daughters repeat their parent?s favourite recipes. Don?t feel guilty if you don?t send Christmas cards, have a huge meal or even put a tree, keeping things simple will help you manage your grief.
  4. Forgive. Often times when we lose a loved one there is unfinished "relationship? business that we now feel helpless to deal with. You may wish you said and did things ? but it is too late. The only way to let these feelings go is to forgive. Writing a letter to your loved one or speaking with a counsellor is a very helpful way of finalizing this act of forgiveness and freeing yourself from hurt feelings and regrets. Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves too!
  5. Diet and Rest. Watching what you eat is very important during the holidays. Over eating and experiencing sugar highs and lows are great ways of feeding depression. Be mindful of what you are taking in and how much sleep you are getting ? especially when you?re already feeling vulnerable.
  6. Marking the loss. When we lose someone it is so hard to see life just carry on without him or her. We can actually feel guilty for enjoying ourselves. Find an outlet to make a tribute to the person you?ve lost. Many churches and funeral homes have special services during the holidays that allow people to celebrate the life of someone they have lost. Whether it is hanging a Christmas wreath on a grave site, writing a letter or memorial, making a yearly donation in their name or posting a tribute online, acknowledging your loss is important.
  7. Reach out. This advice is two sided. One, reach out and receive support for yourself. Secondly, reach out to others. This is the season for serving the hurting. Helping at a soup kitchen, singing at a nursing home or taking clothes to a woman?s shelter is a lot more uplifting than sitting at home feeling alone ? for you and for others. It might even become a new tradition that you cherish.
  8. Talk about the good times. Often when someone loses a partner or a child, we try to protect that person by not talking about the one they lost. Instead, it helps to laugh and remember the funny stories and the good times. These memories can be very comforting.
  9. Reclaim Your Purpose. When we lose someone we love- especially if we were their caregiver ? we find it hard to remember why we were left behind. You may need help to find that focus again and to remember you are important and here for a reason.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas Season and New Year!

Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser
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Making the Season Bright- Part Two

For many people, the Christmas season doesn't feel very much like a holiday. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the shopping, parties, concerts, baking and just aren?t enjoy it- read on.

Here is Part Two of "Making the Season Bright?:

  1. Start every day with a plan. The Christmas season is a busier time than usual and needs to be managed accordingly. Start your day a little earlier than usual. Begin it by making a list of the goals that need to be achieved and what you can reasonably accomplish today. This will give you a greater sense of control and will keep the demands of the moment from just taking over your life.

  1. Delegate! Many people live by the philosophy "If I have to ask for help, I?d rather do it myself.? This doesn?t work during the holidays. Your kids, spouse and peers can help you. Give yourself permission to take something off your list if it is reasonable to ask them to do it for you.

  1. Let it Go. Remember that list of goals I told you to make? Now take a red pen and cross the things off that are not do-able. If you don?t have time to do that extra baking, write those extra Christmas cards or attend that yearly event, allow yourself to say no and not feel guilty. If you are truly managing your time well, trying to reach your goals and there still aren?t enough hours in the day ? reassess what is important and what you can let go of. 
Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Making the Season Bright - Part One

If you?re like me you are busy. Maybe you?re busy at your job, running a business, attending school or just trying to keep up with your family. Whatever it is, for many the whole Christmas season doesn't feel very much like a holiday. If you are feeling caught up in shopping, parties, concerts, baking and you just aren't enjoying it ? Read on. 

Here are some tips to "Make the Season Bright?.

  1. Remember the real meaning of Christmas. Remembering that the first Christmas was about grace, forgiveness and peace on earth should help us re-focus our frantic thoughts. Don?t miss the meaning behind the moment.
  2. Focus on people. Make sure the few days you get off work are centered on the people in your life, not swept up in the trappings of trying to make the holiday picture perfect. Spend less time fussing and more time talking and laughing. If you are separated from the people you love ? by distance, death or divorce, look around you. Many people are alone during the holidays. Reach out to a neighbour, a senior or a young mom. It will help them and help you too.
  3. Remember the Basics. As simple as it sounds, get lots of sleep, eat well and exercise. These three things are key to keeping us feeling well, rested and ready to cope and yet they are the first three things that get sacrificed when we are rushed. Take care of yourself so you can take care of everything and everyone else.

Come back next week for Part Two of Making the Season Bright 

Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Changing You

Change is a tricky thing. We don?t like it when it happens in our own lives, resist it in our own personalities, but wish it would happen to most of the people around us. The desire to have others change is an issue that comes up many times in my practise and in my own life. However, I am learning one important truth:

When one realizes that one can only change themselves and not others, there comes tremendous freedom.

 I often encourage people to come and learn about themselves and grow into this freedom. Many times within our marriage or families we think, "If only so and so would do things my way! ? We say, "You should have done it the way I suggested. Why would you ever choose something like that?? or "If it were me, I?d tell them?? and the list goes on.

 While, men get a bad wrap for having poor communications skills, I see many women who try to make their husbands into "mini-me?s?. We need to understand that men and women are different and that is a good thing ? not a bad thing. Very often women can become nagging wives when they want their husbands to change. They leave hints around (that book on the coffee table) and demand chores not just be done ? but be done the way they like them done. Also, when it comes to discipline, many times women try to make things "right? with the children after Dad has disciplined them. While yes, fathers may have a tendency to be firmer and more rigid in their approach; most times it is wiser to wait and discuss the situation privately with their husband. Wives need to be supportive of their husband?s motive for disciplining and not undermine them in front of the children.

 The bottom line is only you are responsible for your actions and responses. You cannot change anyone. You can show people a different approach, but you still must allow them the freedom to choose. Try not to react to situations or conversations that are difficult. Watch that your own anxiety isn?t causing you to be controlling or nagging. If you concern yourself with your own responses and simply be curious about someone else?s, you will live a far more stress-free life.

 It truly is worth it. 

Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser



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Principles for Real Living:

  1. I am responsible for my own attitude
  2. My attitude affects my actions
  3. I can not change others, but I can influence others
  4. My emotions do not control my actions
  5. Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
  6. Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world

Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008