Dr. Ronald Franks, professor and acting chair of psychiatry at the University of South Alabama, said the holidays can be a stressful time, especially for families who have recently suffered a loss.
“The holidays are a time when families get together,” Dr. Franks said. “If there is an empty place at the table, it evokes grief and a sense of loss.”
Because people are more vulnerable to feeling losses at this time of year, it is important that family members know how they can help lessen the reawakened grief in others.
According to Dr. Franks, one of the best treatments for grieving is to talk as a family.
“Acknowledging the loss and sharing your feelings eases stress and allows everyone to share positive memories,” he said. “It’s a normal response that helps the mind heal.”
Dr. Franks said the most common signs of grieving include feelings of sadness and preoccupation with lost loved ones. He said frightening experiences such as dreams and hallucinations may also be evident.
One of the worst things to do is to let the family member who has lost a loved one become isolated. “This puts them in danger of having their feelings escalate,” Dr. Franks said. “The best thing to do is to keep their memory alive by sharing stories. It can be a painful process, but it is necessary for healing.”
For those who are not ready to deal with a loss or who are reluctant to talk with family members, Dr. Franks said it is important to determine how well they are functioning.
“The majority of people do better talking about the lost loved one,” he said. “However, everyone copes differently.”
“For those who aren’t comfortable talking, just keep an eye on how they’re doing,” he added. “If they aren’t taking care of themselves and not going to work, they might need outside help – whether it is a counselor, psychologist, social worker, or physician."
Dr. Franks said that on average, a person who has lost a loved one should be functioning at a normal rate at around the six-month mark.
He emphasized that grieving is not a linear process. “Some days are better and some days are not,” he said. “After an extended period of time, however, you will get better.”
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Tips to Help Someone Cope with a Loss:
• Be a good listener
• Invite the person to your home for holiday meals and celebrations
• Invite them to exercise with you
• Help them find professional help if needed
• Let them know they are loved
• Offer help with tangible tasks such as holiday shopping
• Give person space and time to recover from loss
• Don’t try to minimize the loss
Suggestions from the American Hospice Foundation on What Not to Say:
"I know how you feel." One can never know how another may feel. You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels.
"It's part of a divine plan." This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, "What plan? Nobody told me about any plan."
"Look at what you have to be thankful for." They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.
"He's in a better place now." The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
"This is behind you now; it's time to get on with your life." Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means "forgetting" their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.
Statements that begin with "You should" or "You will." These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: "Have you thought about. . ." or "You might. . ."
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