Everyone does not feel happy during the holidays. Some people may feel empty when loved ones die or close relationships change. Managing trauma and grief is intertwined in surviving life’s ups and downs.
The CDC reported that “grief is a normal response to loss during or after a disaster or other traumatic events.” Common grief reactions include shock, disbelief, or denial; anxiety; distress; anger; periods of sadness; loss of sleep; and loss of appetite.
Black people are known to be resilient but having space to properly grieve deserves acknowledgement. Dr. Joan Samuels-Dennis is a Canada-based RN-psychotherapist, leading trauma recovery specialist and award-winning speaker who offers insight about coping with holiday grief. Samuels-Dennis has specialized in promoting the mental health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities for over a decade through her groundbreaking trauma recovery strategy, The Forgiveness Method. She pointed out why holiday grief is quite common.
“I would say approximately 50% of us are experiencing grief for two reasons. Many of us are grieving the loss of someone who has died or transitioned on, but I would say a greater portion is grieving because of a ‘leaving’ experience. That is, someone we care deeply for has chosen to leave our relationship or we have chosen to leave the relationship. Whether we leave or are left, there is a grieving process that we must move through,” Samuels-Dennis said.
Family grieving has increased during the pandemic. Some individuals are grieving the loss of loved ones who passed away because of the coronavirus, but Samuels-Dennis said that other families are also grieving significant changes, such as facing chronic illnesses and disabilities resulting from COVID-19. Additionally, isolation caused an increase in the incidence of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, especially among teens and young adults, according to Samuels-Dennis.
Adults may support a grieving child if a parent, grandparent, relative or friend passed away by simply being present and teaching the young person through books, videos, art, and pointing out what the stages of grief look like. Samuels-Dennis noted that the grieving journey is divided into seven stages.
She stated that they consist of shock/denial, being overwhelmed, fear with associated responses such as fight (anger)/flight (avoidance) and shutting down (isolation and silence), acceptance, engagement in recovery work, emotion immersion and letting go, and moving on.
Samuels-Dennis is a firm believer that every individual should engage a mentor, a coach, and a therapist throughout all major transition points in life. She mentioned the value of therapy for children, too.
“Every child who has lost someone should receive grief therapy and the guardian’s role should be one of preparing the child for engagement in the therapeutic process.”
She also remarked that most people move through a grieving process alone, but it is so important to decide to partner with an individual while experiencing it.
“When you partner with someone, you can make a decision to learn about the stage of grief and regularly assess where you are now,” Samuels-Dennis explained. “You can set up times to touch base and honestly express how you are feeling. You should do this with someone you feel can hold space for you to be raw and real. Even though this is a non-judgement space, this is where we honestly notice where professional help is needed and connect with a grief or trauma therapist when ready.”
Connecting with a person who called to check on someone repeatedly, and who thinks about a person often, was also recommended. Even making plans to do something simple like go for coffee can be a productive step.
Samuels-Dennis added that deciding to embark upon a healing journey may also begin with listening to podcasts, reading books, or going on a weekend healing retreat. There is no timeline when it comes to how long a person may grieve, so most people who are sad do not have the energy to engage with others.
Samuels-Dennis also explained that forgiveness is significant to the death, dying, and grieving process. She remarked that it is often overlooked, although it is essential to a person’s healing journey. Forgiving the person for leaving us, forgiving ourselves for leaving the person, forgiving our mothers and fathers for their imperfections, and forgiving ourselves for withholding love and affection due to the anger we carried were specific facets of forgiveness Samuels-Dennis discussed.
“Without it, we can never move on,” she said, referring to the need to forgive. “As we forgive, we acknowledge our feelings as a necessary part of the healing process, but there is also a beautiful moment in every forgiveness where we recognize that as we forgive, we are also forgiven.”
Samuels-Dennis is holding a free 90-minute webinar via Zoom on Saturday, December 17, 2022, to help individuals to create a peaceful and restful holiday. The workshop is entitled “5 Steps to Creating a Peaceful & Restful Holiday.” The expert will teach participants how to align the subconscious, conscious, and superconscious mind and how to harness the power of the superconscious to create a peaceful and restful holiday. Visit https://createapeacefulholiday.eventbrite.ca to register.
Next week, read Part II, a Q & A with Dr. Joan Samuels-Dennis.