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Holidays can Renew Grief for Some
By Stephanie Taylor

'Tis the season to be jolly.

But not for everyone.

For those who have lost a loved one, especially those who have lost someone around the holidays, the season often brings depression and a renewed sense of grief.

People who are grieving family members may feel the loss more profoundly during these months, even if years have passed since their death.

"Individuals will often re-experience the pain of their grief and, if the loss is recent, feel numb during the holiday season," said Takesha Shannon, a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Northport.

Shannon has spoken to many people with such feelings as part of her practice. She has also experienced it herself.

On Dec. 20, 2007, her sister Melakikki Shonte' Edwards was killed in a car crash.

Shannon's family always shopped for Thanksgiving dinner as a family the night before and stayed up late preparing the meal - laughing, talking and listening to Christmas music. Now, each year when Thanksgiving comes, it's a painful reminder that Edwards won't be there to make her cherry pie and enjoy time with her family.

"Rituals and traditions with the holiday season often serve as a trigger. It's a painful reminder that your loved one is not there," Shannon said. "The commercials, greeting cards, holiday decorations, Christmas music and all trappings that the holiday season has begun are also a reminder of your loss. You begin to feel a sense of dread every year when the holiday decorations go up. I know I do."

Natasha Johnson said the grief she feels over the loss of her mother intensifies every year around Christmas. Connie Johnson was killed in 2007, her body found behind a store on Greensboro Avenue on the morning of Christmas Eve 2007.

"It's been hard," Johnson said. "The family hasn't done a big Christmas together since then. We've tried Thanksgiving, but it's not the same for anybody."

Johnson was an only child and the mother of 12- and 9-year-old boys. She hasn't put up a Christmas tree yet this year and isn't sure if she will. She last saw her mother during a shopping trip for the children, where they bought presents that the boys didn't open until well into the next year.

"Christmas will never be the same for my kids. They will always be haunted with this memory," Johnson said.
The children, along with friends and other family members, often ask about the status of the criminal case against the man charged with killing Johnson. No trial date has been set.

"That just makes it worse, that I don't have anything to tell them," Johnson said. "It will be a comfort to me once this is resolved. I need to know what happened to her on the last day of her life. I can't say that he did it until it's been proven in court. And I feel like he had help, but there's only one person in custody. "

Joanna Jacobs is the leader of the Tuscaloosa chapter of Compassionate Friends, a group for parents whose children have died. She said the holidays can be a tough time, and even small triggers can cause her to hurt.
"When our family gets together, we always pray before we eat. Someone might say, 'Thank you for letting the family be together this year,' and it's like pouring salt in a wound," she said. "They don't mean anything by it. But the family is not all together."

Compassionate Friends holds a candlelight ceremony every year in December during which members light a candle in memory of their child.

"With the hustle and bustle of the season, people sometimes forget that you've lost a child," she said. "Having a candlelight ceremony is our time that we get to focus on the child that we've lost and be able to remember them. It helps."

Jacobs' son Brandon was killed in a car crash in 2003. Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, his family lights a candle for him every night that burns until they go to bed. On Christmas morning, they take the candle from the Compassionate Friends ceremony and light it at his place at the table.

"He is still a part of our family," Jacobs said.

Shannon said grief is a complex issue. People may experience the same symptoms, including depressed moods, crying spells, feelings of anger, irritability, emptiness, guilt, poor concentration, fatigue, insomnia or excess sleep.
"However, their journey toward acceptance is not the same," she said.

Shannon has counseled those who have lost children, parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family and friends. The holiday season is a common trigger for a return to the symptoms of grief, she said, with the severity and duration of the symptoms unique to each person.

Changes in weather can also change one's mood, she said. Shorter days, barren trees, cold weather and little sunlight can bring a person down.

Missing a loved one isn't the only reason people get sad during the holidays. Shannon has treated parents who have become overwhelmed and stressed after losing a job and being unable to provide as much as they would like for their families. She has treated women overwhelmed with meeting the expectations of families and employers during the holiday season.

Reach Stephanie Taylor at stephanie.taylor@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0210.
Copyright © 2012 TuscaloosaNews.com - All rights reserved. Restricted use only.

How to cope with grief at the holidays

Professional counselor Takesha Shannon shares advice about coping with grief during the holidays:

Understand that re-experiencing symptoms around the holiday season, just as at anniversaries and birthdays, is not a setback. It is to be expected. Don't be surprised or alarmed at the intensity of those symptoms. It is the nature of grief and will have many ups and downs.

Educate yourself on the grieving process. Read a book, attend a seminar or lecture, or join a support group.
Embrace family and friends who support you. Talk to them and share your thoughts and feelings.
Create new traditions and rituals with family and friends who are still here.

Don't be afraid to remember the loved one you have lost, share funny memories, look at pictures and celebrate that person's life.

Share with important people in your life that it is a difficult time and let them know how to help you. Don't be offended or hurt if they don't know what to say or say the wrong thing.

Remember the techniques that helped you in the past and use them. Don't ignore symptoms and think they will go away. Meet them head-on with a game plan.

Cry or take some time away from people to regroup if you need to.

Be prepared to be contacted by friends and family who may not have heard about your loss or want to offer condolences.

Stick to healthy habits. Eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest.

Adhere to the usual stress management techniques: Be organized, set priorities, be realistic and don't add stress to your life.

If your symptoms persist at full intensity or increase beyond two weeks, if you experience suicidal ideation, or experience a marked decrease in your ability to function, such as decreased job performance or difficulty parenting, seek professional help from a counselor or therapist.

"Thank you for reaching out to the bereaved!"

Need more help?
If you are a bereaved person or
someone wanting to help a bereaved person,
we can help.
For more information,
contact Peter or Deb at 1-978-343-4009,
Help@BereavementAwareness.com.
You can also write to us at Peter and Deb Kulkkula,
381 Billings Road, Fitchburg, MA 01420-1407
.
If we can't help you, we'll connect you with someone who can.

Bereavement Spokesperson Deb Kulkkula
Bereaved Parent
, Inspirational Writer and Speaker and
Bereavement Spokesperson Peter Kulkkula
Bereaved Parent, Bereaved Sibling, American Adventurer

Although we have no bereavement degrees, we have lost two children,
my husband lost his brother, and my sister, mother, and neice lost their husbands.
We worked with and led our local chapter o
The Compassionate Friends (for bereaved parents and their families)
for many years after the organization helped us.

I edited newsletters, wrote articles,
and was the education chair of the 2005 Annual TCF Conference.
We are very grateful to The Compassionate Friends.

At the same time, Deb lead a group of writers.
They first wrote a brochure entitled

"Reaching Out
to Help the Bereaved"
Lovingly Written by
Jane K. Andrews - in loving memory of Peter John Kulkkula,
Bonny Caisse - in loving memory of Jared James Caisse,
Anne M. Dionne - in loving memory of Michael S. Dionne,
Deborah L. Kulkkula -in loving memory of Peter John Kulkkula,
Jane Maki - in loving memory of Christopher L. Maki.
Lovingly Designed and Compiled by
Deborah L. Kulkkula - in loving memory of Peter John Kulkkula.
Lovingly Created Artwork in the hard copy by
Kelly A. Dionne - in loving memory of Michael S. Dionne
We appreciate your loving attention to this brochure.

Then,
co-wrote a book entitled
Every Step of the Way: How four mothers coped with child loss
with Yvonne Lancaster, Anne Dionne, Jane Maki.
Thank you: Yvonne, Anne, and Jane.

We are both dedicated to helping the bereaved.
Since 2008, we have been sponsoring bereavement months
to show the general public how to reach out and help the bereaved,
support the newly bereaved,
and to connect the newly bereaved with a helpful organization.

Site designed by Deb Kulkkula
Donated by Rising Star Speakers and Peter and Deb Kulkkula
In loving memory of Peter John Kulkkula, Quy Dan Ha Vo
,
David Lydon, Harold F. LeBouf, Elma & Ansu Kulkkula
©2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2913 Rising Star Publishing
For more information,contact
Deb Kulkkula, M Ed, M B A, Hon Ph D
381 Billings Road, Fitchburg, MA 01420-1407.
Help@BereavementAwareness.com
or at 1-978-343-4009.