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April 2017: Finding Meaning and Acceptance in the Face of Loss
Holidays, milestones and special occasions are usually a time of togetherness, high spirits, and celebrations with family, friends and co-workers.  However, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and religious and civil holidays can be difficult for those who have recently lost a loved one—or are still very much missing that person, even after many years. For them, these occasions are fraught with triggers for great sadness.

At Center for Hope Hospice, we know that grief comes in stages and that feelings of loss may linger for a very long time. We understand that many people who are bereaved may also feel isolated when it seems everyone else is enjoying parties and family get-togethers. We asked our colleague, Dr. Ronald Wei—a psychiatrist in northern New Jersey—for some insights into finding meaning on these occasions when one is also dealing with loss.

Dr. Wei suggests that acceptance is at the core of coping strategies.

Accept that milestones and holidays are difficult but that there are ways to overcome the challenge.  Dr. Wei says that rather than avoid the approaching occasion, steer right into the emotional storm. “It’s important to mark what has happened rather than hide the fact of this person’s passing. One should stop the dinner or interrupt the slide show of happy times to make a toast in honor of the loved one. This can be very healing and a source of comfort.” 

Avoiding feelings of grief can create another layer of pain. Accepting it and creating ways that honor who you are missing provides a necessary and healthy outlet for grief.

Accept your varied emotions.
Rather than judge what you are feeling—which may be complicated—be easy on yourself and validate your different emotions. You might be feeling anger (at the deceased, God, the universe, the medical establishment, etc.), guilt, or any variety of emotions.  According to Dr. Wei, “Regardless of how contradictory these feelings may seem, validate them and accept them because they are rooted in a deep personal truth. This includes experiencing joy and laughter mixed in with sadness. It’s all OK.”

Accept what you can and cannot do, and make it happen in some manner.
Dr. Wei encourages people who are living with a critically ill relative to think and do the positive now, regardless of how the other person receives it. There won’t be another time to do or say those positive things but there will be a lot of time to regret them if you don’t act on them … and many future moments for that regret to overshadow good times with friends and family.

He cautions against being left with “I should have said …” This includes accepting what is possible and finding ways to modify or re-imagine how to fulfill it.  It can also mean expressing the positive feelings you have for the person now.  “You will never regret the good things you thought about, did or said, but you will regret what you didn’t do for a long time. Go ahead and do it together if it is physically possible and if not, accept what is possible and make it happen in a different form.”

Hand in hand with this are other acceptances around what you can and cannot do. For instance, particularly in the first year of loss, many bereaved develop new holiday observances and traditions, another way to accept they can no longer share the holidays with those who have passed in the same way they had in the past. It is also important to accept that you may not want to take on the tasks you used to do, at least not this time. Be gentle with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask others for help.

Accept that death is part of the life cycle.
Death is a natural part of life and is not something that anyone can escape. Accepting that as you face the loss of a loved one is an important part of the healing process.
We would add one more form of acceptance—accepting support from others during these difficult days.  For more information about our bereavement groups, please call our Bereavement Department at 908.889.7780 or email [email protected]