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Five tips for dealing with grief during the holidays

UW Associate Professor Wendy Lustbader says you shouldn't be afraid to bring up a lost loved one in conversation, even if tears follow. Crying can be cathartic. (AP Photo/File)

Parents of Sandy Hook children will probably have a very hard Christmas this year. Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be especially difficult around the holidays.

Even if the loss happened months, or even years ago, the grief can come right back to the surface this time of year.

Author and University of Washington Professor Wendy Lustbader specializes in end-of-life issues. She has five tips for helping a grieving family member through the holiday season.

First, she says, don’t ignore it. It is important to find some time to honor the fact that there is grief in the air.

“If you can’t be real, if you can’t speak your feelings, I think that just amplifies the loneliness,” says Lustbader.

Second, don’t be afraid to approach someone who seems sad, even if they seem to be hiding in the corner. Lustbader says a grieving person often won’t speak for fear of bringing everyone else’s spirits down.

If you lend them an ear, you may find they’re eager to share their feelings. But don’t try to cheer them up, Lustbader says. Pretending to be jolly can be too exhausting for someone dealing with a loss.

Third, let the mourner lead when it comes to family traditions. They may want to skip them this year to mark this holiday as being different from all others.

“It doesn’t mean the tradition is gone for next year,” says Lustbader. “It’s just that person saying I don’t have the spirit for it this year.”

Fourth, don’t tell children not to bring up the person who has been lost, and don’t be afraid to make someone cry. Tears can be cathartic.

Finally, don’t try to hide your grief from your children. Lustbader says kids have really good radar. If you’re trying to mask your pain it will just confuse them.

“I think it’s a myth that holidays need to be merry. I think holidays need to be real,” says Lustbader. “Being close to one another means nobody having to hide.”

Wendy Lustbader is the author of “Counting on Kindness: The Dilemmas of Dependency.”

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