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Coping with loss during the holidays

mantel with stockings
Hanging a special Christmas stocking to remember someone who has died is a way of coping with the loss.  
December 24, 1998
Web posted at: 1:11 p.m. EDT (1711 GMT)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- The holidays are a time for joy and sharing. But for some people, the holidays also mean confronting grief head on, as they cope with the loss of loved ones.

"My parents have passed away just in the past four months," Patsy Yocum said. "My mother died in August of pancreatic cancer and my father died 44 days later."

With high expectations of happiness during Christmas, it can be especially stressful for people like Yocum.

"I work in a little gift shop now once a week, really as a diversion to keep my mind off things," Yocum said. "There are moments when a person will come in Christmas shopping with their mother and that is hard. That is just really hard."

Feelings of joy also can bring feelings of guilt, as if the memory of the person who has died is being betrayed.

Yocum's parents died in the past four months  

Psychologists say people who are grieving often go into seclusion for fear of depressing those around them. But the best treatment for grieving is to be with other people and talk about the loved one who has gone.

'Everything has changed'

"I think one of the biggest stresses they put on themselves when they have had a death is to try to pretend like nothing has changed, when everything has changed," said Wendy Walters, a social worker at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

"We feel like it is best to acknowledge that things are different and to do something special in order to honor that person who has died, and as a way to keep their memory alive during the holiday season."

Walters suggests beginning a new tradition, like hanging a special stocking to honor a lost loved one.

Children, often the forgotten grievers, can be helped through the process by having them create a memory box or ornament with a picture of the deceased.

Yocum said she talked to her 5-year-old daughter Olivia to help her understand the loss of her grandparents.

"What I explained to her is that people die and God turns them into angels, and that we will see them again one day," Yocum said. "One day we were driving and she looked up and said, 'Oh, Mama, look at that cloud. It looks like an angel. I bet it's Grandma.'"

Correspondent Holly Firfer contributed to this report.

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