By Camisha Jones
It’s the time of year when street lights and houses are covered in twinkling, multi-colored lights. Joy-filled songs fill the air in public spaces. Random strangers share cheerful greetings with one another. In a world so bright and upbeat, it can be difficult to grieve. The very things that make the holidays enjoyable can be reasons for sorrow and feelings of isolation.
“Experiencing grief during the holiday season can be more difficult than experiencing grief during any other time of the year,” says Rev. Dr. Felicia T. Green, director of the Barnabas Counseling Ministry at St. Paul’s Baptist Church. “Typically during the holiday season,” says Green, “most people are filled with happiness, joy and family unity. In the midst of holiday cheer, the grieving individual may often be experiencing sadness or depression, as they are reminded of their loss. The grieving individual may often feel “forced” to be happy and sociable when in all actuality they may feel emotionally detached and disconnected from the holiday festivities.”
A little over a year ago, Juletta Tyson’s fiancé, Tony McKoy, died of a heart attack. “I felt like I lost a limb, like part of me was gone and I was waiting for it to come back,” says Tyson. “I got through the holidays by talking about him; retelling his jokes; and talking about …experiences with him.” Similarly, when Lauren G. Parker lost her grandfather, Kermit Gwathmey, in October 2010, she says it helped to talk about him, especially with people who showed sincere interest in her stories. Writing about his father, Tony Amos, who died in December 2006 was a source of comfort for Anthony Amos in his grieving process.
“Expressing one’s grief is one way to heal from it,” says Green. She suggests that those who have lost loved ones give themselves permission to mourn in whatever way helps them – whether that is spending time alone, talking about their loved one, or excusing themselves from holiday festivities.
Several organizations in Richmond offer opportunities for people to express their grief this holiday season by gathering with others in memory of loved ones.
March Funeral Homes sponsors an annual Candle Light Service of Remembrance. The event is scheduled for December 11, from 3pm to 5pm, at the March Funeral Homes Laburnum Chapel at 2110 East Laburnum Avenue. It will provide an opportunity for people to light a candle in memory of a loved one and feature worship, song, dance and an inspirational message.
At St. Paul’s Baptist Church, the Barnabas Counseling Ministry offers an annual Celebration of Life Worship Service. This year’s event will include a gospel ensemble, liturgical dancers, a special candle lighting service and a message and words of encouragement from Rev. Dr. Howard D. Harris who heads up St. Paul’s “Unload It All” Grief Group. The event happens Sunday, December 18th at 12:30 pm in the Chapel of St. Paul’s Creighton Road campus, located at 4247 Creighton Road.
Full Circle, Richmond’s Family Grief Center, provides a variety of creative ways to express grief to children and families, such as through art, writing, play, crafting, photography, and music. Two free Creative Connections Remembrance workshops are being held this month, allowing participants to create holiday ornaments in memory of their loved ones. The workshops are scheduled for December 14th at the Northside Family Learning Center and December 20th at the Full Circle office, both from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Prior registration is required. Among the many other resources available through Full Circle, is a Memory Wall available on their website (http://fullcirclegc.org/grief-resources/) where people can create an online page in tribute to their loved one.
The Barnabas Counseling Ministry has a grief support group named the “Unload It All Grief Recovery Group.” Led by pastoral counselors, the group provides 8 week sessions that are free and open to the community. The next session begins January 2012. Individual counseling sessions are also available by appointment.
Allyson Drake, Executive Director of Full Circle, stresses the importance of families deciding together how to incorporate remembrance activities into their holiday season. She says children should have a voice in that planning process and people should not be afraid of changing their holiday traditions as a way of coping. She offers these examples of ways to keep a loved one’s memory alive this season:
• Light a candle in honor of the person who died
• Make a toast to your loved one during the holiday meal
• Make a donation to a charity in memory of your loved one
• Create a special CD of music that reminds you of your loved one
• Do a favorite activity of your loved one or cook their favorite meal during the holidays
• Create an area with photos, special items, candles, etc. in your home or garden to help remember special memories of the loved one
“The only important aspect of remembering is to not force yourself into something you are not comfortable with — that defeats the whole purpose of participating in a remembrance activity. Find a ritual or experience that feels special to you and go with it.”
Green advises those who are missing loved ones this winter to allow themselves not only to feel sadness but to also enjoy the season. She says, “Although you may feel guilty having joy in the midst of mourning, remembering the joyous times shared with your loved one is one of the most therapeutic ways in which you can honor their life and memory.”
For more information or to register for the Barnabas Counseling Ministry’s grief group: firstname.lastname@example.org . To register for either of the Full Circle Creative Connections workshops: email@example.com or 912-2947.