The Worst Time of the Year by Korky Vann

Tis Thing Called Life

The following article is published in The Sunday Star (Malaysian paper) today under Fit for Life section. This insightful article is writen by Korky Vann. Initially I intended to summarise the article and link back to the original post online but have not been able to locate the source.

Weeks before the holidays are difficult for those who are still grieving.
by Korky Vann

For some, as the song goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for those grieving the loss of a loved one, the sights, sounds and traditions of the season are ongoing and painful reminders of how life has changed.

Experts say individuals experiencing such challenges often face the holidays with anxiety and sadness. And while people of any age can suffer holiday blues, seasonal celebrations can be particularly difficult for older adults, according to the American Geriatrics Society and its Foundation for Health in Aging.

“Older people may feel melancholy because the holidays remind them of times past and loved ones who have died or moved away,” says foundation chair Dr Meghan Gerety, chief of staff of the New Mexico VA Health Care System.

Karen Carney, a social worker who has worked in trauma and grief counselling for more than 20 years, knows first-hand the challenge of celebrating the holidays after the loss of loved ones.

Over the past several decades, she’s lost her mother, brother, grandparents and all of her biological aunts and uncles. Two years ago, she lost her mother-in-law. Several weeks ago, her father died.

“As we age, we tend to experience multiple layers of loss,” says Carney, bereavement programme director at the D’Esopo Resource Center in Wethersfield, Connecticut. “Seeing other people having what appears to be perfect holidays makes us feel even more lonely and sad.”

Carney says there are ways to help cope with the feelings. First, acknowledge that circumstances have changed and things are not the same.

Give yourself permission to experience the grief. Share your thoughts and memories with those who will acknowledge and validate what you’re experiencing, not simply try to cheer you up.

“Trying to pretend you’re better than you actually are can be exhausting,” Carney says. “Often, if people find if they can experss their true feelings, they can also look at the things they still have to be thankful for.”

Her other advice: Understand that the anticipation of the holiday or anniversary is usually worse than the actual day. Your hardest days are right now, and you are surviving this, so you will survive holidays and anniversaries.

Plan. Be prepared. Have multiple options for getting through the holidays, and let others know that you reserve the right to change the plan at a moment’s notice.

If you have to buy gifts, try to use a catalogue or order online. Stay away from malls and other places where there are crowds of seemingly happy people excited about the holidays. The experience can reinforce your pain.

Find a symbolic way to remember your loved one during the festivities. Some find it comforting to buy a center-iece made of a family member’s favourite flowers.

Carney cooks dishes that her mother and her mother-in-law taught her to make. Light a candle, not “in memory” of your loved one but “in celebration” of his or her life.

Take care of your physical and emotional health. Eat and drink in moderation, get plenty of rest and remember to exercise. Wherever you go and whatever you do, bring plenty of tissues.

The American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging, or FHA has released Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues, available at

The publication advises older people to ask for additional assistance if they need help travelling to or preparing the holiday events, encourages them to talk about their feelings, including loss and sadness, and alerts readers of warning signs of depression.

About the author
Korky Vann writes weekly featuring on issues of interest to older readers and often cover stories dealing with grief, loss and end of life topics. His writings are published in The Hartford Courant, a newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

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  • Jennefer Fobbs Dec 25, 2009 Link Reply

    Hey. I got a 502 gateway error earlier today when I tried to access this page. Anyone else had the problem?

    • Yin Teing Dec 26, 2009 Link Reply

      Dear Jennefer, thanks for highlighting. I’ll check with the hosting company about this. Happy New Year.

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