Celebrating the Christmas season, even after a loss

Celebrating the Christmas season, even after a loss

The holiday season is supposed to be the "most wonderful time of the year."  But for those who have lost a loved one, Christmas can be very blue - lasting into the start of a new year.

December 5th marks eight years since Joy Huff's husband, David, died while duck hunting.  "He had a heart attack," she said, "it was the widow maker, an acute myocardial infarction.  He just dropped dead."

Joy says the months to follow were a downward spiral into depression, especially when the holiday season rolled around.  "If you're lonely, overwhelmed, feeling unworthy, you don't see the light at the end of that tunnel and it is there," she said, "I think the holidays make it a lot worse."

Michael Lavine is a registered nurse with CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital's behavioral health department.  He says holiday depression is common in those that have lost loved ones.  "That hole that's left from that person that's no longer there and the memories that were held by that loved one," he said.

Joy says it was the traditions that made Thanksgiving and Christmas extra tough after David's death.  "We grocery shopped together, we Christmas shopped together, we decorated trees together," she said, "all that was gone in the blink of an eye."

That disruption to "normal" and coping with those changes can lead to these signs of depression, according to Lavine.  "Increased anger, mood swings, sleeping too much or insomnia, excessive drug and alcohol usage and crying spells," he said.

Talking to a professional about these feelings can help in the healing process.

Joy said for her, it was learning the three "T's," tears, time and talk.  "A lot of tears, time you can't control, but find someone to talk to and if you're the person on the receiving end, listen," she said.

Joy has found joy again, even after losing her mother two years ago.  She says it is about creating new traditions, cherishing happy memories - and taking care of yourself year-round.  "I make sure that I get enough sleep, I make sure that I've created some new traditions and I'm surrounded with family," she said.

Financial stressors and increased responsibilities can also trigger holiday depression. Lavine says make sure you spend within your means on Christmas gifts and share responsibilities with other friends and family to keep from being stretched too thin.

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