The holidays can be hard on those left behind after the loss of a loved one – especially the first holiday season without them.
Nancy Singleton and Carol Rouse, sisters from Cherry Hill, knew they were in for a difficult season. Reeling after losing both of their parents within seven months, they quickly decided to take advantage of the grief counseling services Samaritan offered and enjoyed meeting with a trained bereavement counselor to help them address their grief. But with the holidays approaching, they decided to sign up for Samaritan’s Coping With the Holidays one-day support group as well.
Coping with the Holidays is a free support group offering information about grief during the holiday season, as well as advice on compassion for self and others, and suggestions for self-care.
While typically held in person, this year’s groups were held virtually enabling the bereaved to safely spend time with others who are dealing with similar grief – an opportunity Nancy and Carol were grateful for.
“It was a wonderful opportunity, because it really showed us we weren’t alone,” Nancy says. “Everyone there had the same very final, very painful grief in common with us.”
The sisters and other members of the group lit a candle for their loved ones, joined a memorialization ceremony, and were offered the chance to say goodbye. Under the guidance of Samaritan’s grief counselors, the attendees also acknowledged how the first holiday season without their loved ones would be different than any other. Nancy and Carol were encouraged to discuss their holiday plans without guilt, and assured that it was ok to enjoy the holidays without their deceased loved ones.
“We made new plans, new traditions,” Nancy says. “Instead of having a big family gathering, we decided we would explore new places.” The sisters travelled to Washington, DC last Christmas to explore the city’s museums and exciting neighborhoods like Georgetown.
Unfortunately, with this year’s travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nancy and Carol know they will have to table their holiday travel plans for now – but they plan to continue their new holiday tradition next year.
“Take everything the support groups offer,” advises Nancy. “You don’t know how much it will help you until you’re facing the holidays without your loved one.”
Joan Ordille, DSW, LCSW, Samaritan Center for Grief Support’s bereavement program supervisor adds, “Grief is a physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and behavioral experience that can overflow into all areas of life. Accessing a grief support group helps people find ways to validate their loss, express their feelings, and know it’s ok to have a full range of emotions. Engaging in life and a full range of experience can honor a loved one.”
Coping with the Holidays is just one of several grief support groups Samaritan provides. Support groups are free but registration is required.