Fly with the Phoenix

Accepting the gift of grief this holiday season
December 9, 2009, 3:55 am
Filed under: Family Transitions, Holiday Transitions, Personal Transitions

This Christmas, my family and I will be at a Salvation Army homeless shelter in St. Louis helping serve the holiday meal to hundreds of men who came in from the cold streets. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I can’t.

My husband thought of it, and then a friend a work told me she was going to volunteer at our local USO. Her daughter would be out of town with her new fiancee and my friend didn’t want to be home alone on Christmas.

Admittedly, if my family situation still was cozy and comfortable–that is, my daughter did not live between two households, my parents were living, and I had plenty of relatives surrounding us–the idea to go to a shelter and serve food wouldn’t be on my radar, and I’d probably have said “are you kidding” to the suggestion. However, this is an instance when change can lead to something new and positive. In serving others on this holiday, I’m really honoring my deceased family members, and of course, my Lord Jesus Christ, who calls us into a life of service. In addition, the act models something important for my daughter, and switch her emphasis off the gifts. I also anticipate this new activity will help keep my mind off “the old days” of lost holidays with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

If you find yourself in transition this holiday season because of the loss of a loved one through death, divorce or separation, how would you feel about trying to volunteer for day–whatever day feels comfortable for you? Visit to find a volunteer opportunity near you. If you want to help servicemen and women this holiday, click on to find USO programs in your area. My friend will be working at the USO at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.

Perhaps your loss is fresh, and serving right now is not appropriate for you. Alan D. Wolfelt, an internationally noted author, educator and grief counselor at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine, has these self-care tips for you.

Talk about your grief with a caring friend or relative who will listen without judging you.

Be tolerant of your physical and psychological limits and respect what your body and mind are telling you. Lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

Eliminate unnecessary stress, realizing also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief, but may increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Plan for family gatherings and decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened.

Express your faith or attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony.

Should you need to speak to a professional, your local hospital may host a grief support group. These usually are facilitated by one or two leaders, and participants gather to discuss topics about losing someone that was close to them. You also can find groups in Missouri at or in Kansas City at Life Preservers is an online grief support community and is available at

Give yourself the gift of self-care this holiday as you make a life transition from living with someone special to moving on without them. If you broke tradition for the holidays either this year in years past, please share the experience with readers, including how the new activity helped your grieving process.


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