State of Mind: Grief and the holidays

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- In the songs we hear, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

"When we're younger, we're always sort of told that the holiday season is supposed to be a time of celebration, where we celebrate our togetherness with each other," said Dr. Brian Weiland, a psychologist from Behavioral Health Clinic.

But when you've had a loved one pass away, there's something missing.

"We have tradition, we have ritual, and the absence of a loved one who might be playing a significant role in our holiday certainly can sharpen that pain," added Amy Kitsembel, a bereavement coordinator with Aspirus comfort care and hospice services. She said grief can bring a range of emotions, from despair to guilt.

"When we feel like we're experiencing laughter and joy without the person," Kitsembel said.

Dr. Weiland said it doesn't matter how long ago the loss was.

"You're not confronted with that throughout the year, so your brain doesn't really have a chance to desensitize."

He explained that grief is a natural process of being human.

"All of that is part of our mental health," Weiland said. "It's the unfortunate consequence of loving someone."

Both Weiland and Kitsembel said the best way to cope is to allow yourself to feel whatever emotion your brain is telling you to feel.

"Sadness is normal, so is joy," Kitsembel said.

"Any human wants to avoid pain, but we shouldn't avoid grief. Grief is the process of working through that," Weiland added.

They said it's OK to honor and include your loved one in your own way, like putting a picture out, lighting a candle, or telling stories about them.

"Grief looks like talking about it. Grief looks like experiencing it," said Weiland.

"It's in the acknowledging that the space is changed.. whose chair that is. It's saying it out loud that we actually get to a better place," Kitsembel said.

Also, lean on family members and friends for support, and change your expectations so you don't feel guilty about holidays in the future.

"It's hard," Kitsembel expressed. "You will get to the other side of it."

If you're interested in community resources, such as support groups, contact Aspirus Comfort Care and Hospice Services at 715-847-2424.