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How to handle the holiday season and loss of loved ones

by  Aaliyah Bowden, The Charlotte Post

The holidays are coming but some people won’t be in the mood to celebrate.

After someone near and dear to you dies, it may be hard to enjoy end-of-the-year traditions. Holiday grief is when a person loses a relative or loved one near the holidays or certain festivities had special meaning to the deceased.

“It’s a paradox because we’re there to celebrate but at the same time that the person is not there, it kind of dims that celebration,” said David Roundtree, owner and founder of Kairos Counseling in Charlotte.

With so many deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been hard for some people to enjoy the holidays. Throughout the ongoing health crisis, African Americans are three times more likely to be hospitalized from the novel coronavirus and two times more likely to die from the illness.

“A lot of people have passed away due to COVID,” said Soltana Nosrati, a psychotherapist at Novant Health. “But even before that, holidays have always been significantly difficult for not just my patients that struggle with depression and anxiety, but also in general, for those folks that have lost someone very close to them. So, the holidays kind of bring that into sharp focus, that that person is just not there anymore.”

With year two quickly approaching for the pandemic, Black people also have witnessed police brutality play out in the media to unarmed Black men and women, further contributing to pain in the Black community.

A 2010 study found that African Americans experience more grief symptoms compared to white people, especially in individuals who do not seek counseling. However, there can be a silver lining to grief during the holidays.

Sorrow isn’t always bad because it can bring about gratitude, laughter, and memories from a relative or friend who has transitioned.

“We are their legacy,” Roundtree said. “For example, if our parents or grandparents have transitioned on, (or) have died and have left this earth, we’re their legacy and so it’s always good to celebrate who they are and to celebrate the fact that we are the legacy.”

Most people are familiar with the stages of grief which are denial, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance. But a major sign of holiday grief is isolation in which a person distances themselves from regular traditions or rituals that are typically done in their family. In older adults, it may be extremely difficult for them to cope after a person dies and when their family members live far away, making them feel isolated.

For the first months after a death in the family, relatives will call to check in or bring by food to make sure the individual is eating. But months later, the phone calls stop, and the person may still be grieving or having a hard time coping. Therefore, therapists recommend people to continue to check on bereaved family members on several months or even years down the line, especially on death anniversaries or on the birthday of the relative who passed away.

It is common for a person to have what is known as a trigger, which are special memories of a person they lost, such as a smell, sound, or song. However, triggers are not necessarily bad. Overall, grief is the body’s way of adjusting to life’s changes.

“We’re always transitioning, so it never stops. Death is never convenient,” said Roundtree, who incorporates a patient’s spiritual journey into sessions. “But we continue to transition, and we continue to grow, and we build from where we used to be until where we’re going to go or to where God would have been.”

One way to help a grieving loved one get into the holiday spirit is by rekindling traditions from the person who is no longer living. If Christmas was a special holiday to grandma, put an ornament with a picture of her on the tree. Some other ways are through cooking a loved one’s favorite dish and looking through photo albums.

Another way is celebrating Kwanzaa. Even though some African Americans don’t celebrate the ritual period from Dec. 26-Jan. 1, Kwanzaa pays homage to African culture and highlights essential principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

“If you look at those principles, those are our principles that are tied to a community of people who actually love and respect each other,” Roundtree said. “And I think we need that back.”

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