Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on December 14, 1998. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Holiday Tragedies Rob Season's Joy
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Tragedies happen every month, week and day of the year, so why do they seem so much more devastating around the holidays?
Dr. Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said people naturally notice unexpected events more than the common experiences of life. Even when someone has battled an illness for a long time, their family and friends still don't expect a death around the holidays.
"The holidays are traditionally a time for happiness and enjoyment of family and friends. Losses or tragedies during the holidays will not only hurt one year, but also for years afterwards," Davis said. "While special days can be difficult, don't make the experience worse by expecting the worst. Dwell on positive memories, especially those related to the holidays."
Most people benefit from joining family and friends on special days. Others may decline holiday invitations or stay for a shorter time. Give yourself permission to change traditions.
"Ignoring your grief will not make it go away. It's healthy to reach out and share your thoughts and emotions with those who understand," Davis said. "Don't hesitate to talk about a person who is no longer there and verbalize your thoughts, both happy and sad. Healing does not mean forgetting."
If memories are tinged with resentment or if the death was violent or a suicide, loved ones may have a hard time dealing with some of the feelings.
"The emotions can flare up without warning and overwhelm a person. If not dealt with, they can hinder the emotional healing that should follow," Davis said. "Remember, there is tremendous healing power in forgiveness."
Be aware of grief that paralyzes a person's ability to carry on their responsibilities or causes excessive crying. Some people may need professional guidance through the grieving period or sad milestones.
Dr. Jeane Lee of MSU's Counseling Center said people are much more attune to their grief during the holidays and a lot of informal counseling occurs from helpful friends.
"Special times intensify grief. It is amazing how something that is so normal can feel so abnormal," Lee said. "People often struggle more when they lose someone out of the natural order, like when a parent loses a child."
Lee encouraged people to look at the quality of a person's life and not the length of it.