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Handle grief with care

Christmas can be a tough time for those of us who have experienced the passing of a loved one. I recently received an email from a man whose wife passed away this fall. They have three children under the age of 15.

Christmas can be a tough time for those of us who have experienced the passing of a loved one.

I recently received an email from a man whose wife passed away this fall. They have three children under the age of 15. He is reaching out for help as he is dreading the Christmas season. I know so many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, and Christmas stirs up a great deal of sadness.

When a loved one passes, it rocks our whole foundation. Everything, as we know it, is different.

There can be such a weight of heaviness.

My dad passed away in November many years ago just before Christmas. I remember the pain - layers and layers of pain and sadness. It was really hard and I wondered if I would make it through December. I felt the combination of loss and Christmas would completely bowl me over due to so many emotions.

So where do we start and how do we navigate through Christmas when our hearts are aching? For all of us, we have to start at the beginning and consider what is real for us and the truth of how we feel. You may feel devastated, overwhelmed, angry, numbed out or incredibly sad. You may be open with your grief or hiding it. You may be wondering how much of your open grief your friends can handle. Could you end up overwhelming them and spoiling their Christmas? And then there are those of us who do everything we can to avoid our feelings. We heavily distract ourselves intending to not feel pain. To move forward with grief, it's really important to stay in integrity with how we really, truly feel.

Don't try to be different; be honest with yourself so you can plan how to look after yourself from a very truthful, vulnerable place. There is tremendous strength in being with what is real for us.

Grief often comes in waves. We are in the midst of being in and out of it. I encourage you to ask yourself two questions that have been an anchor for me over the years. They are: How do I feel? And, what do I need? Throughout the years, asking and listening, and then taking action have allowed me to go through the tough times with authenticity. This is how healing happens.

As you invite yourself to befriend these two questions, there may be times when you need quiet space, and other times when you need the outside world.

There is a time for expression of all aspects of grief: a time for despair; a time for hope; a time for reflection; a time for spirit; a time for a Kleenex box; a time for an airplane ticket; a time for a photo album; and a time for distraction.

I encourage you to tell your friends what you need. This can be of great help for you and for them.

There is no right or wrong way to cope with Christmas. Distraction can be a helpful coping technique. One thing I encourage you to do is to have a plan. Don't go into Christmas without something that you are going to gift yourself. For some people it's going on vacation to some place sunny, where they can feel lighter.

When my dad died, we decided to completely change our experience of Christmas. My mom and brother took a cruise (their first ever) with friends, and I stayed with some university pals, and skied and played cards. It worked for us. The next Christmas was easier, and then the next was easier again. Choosing to do something different helped us.

Remember that the part of you that is hurting is a beautiful part of you that can feel so deeply and sincerely. You don't want to make that part of you bad. It's your beautiful heart that serves you well.

This is a beautiful community. I have been deeply moved by the support and care we all have for one another.

I'm taking a deep breath, knowing that life has its joys and sorrows. The terrain of life is challenging.

Thank you to the gentleman who reached out and allowed all of us to bring full sentiment to the holiday season.

All the best from 2013.

Beverley Pugh has more than 30 years of experience and is a registered counsellor on the North Shore. She often gives workshops and lectures in the community and writes a newsletter, The Mastery of Health and Happiness, viewable at