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'Anything But Merry' offers help for those grieving during the holidays

The holidays are often a difficult time for those grieving the loss of a loved one. 'Anything But Merry' sessions offer some helpful coping strategies
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Amidst the twinkling lights and the cheerful Christmas music, the holidays are supposed be the happiest time for year. For those coping with the loss of a loved one, Christmas can be anything but joyful.

Traditions are deeply rooted in the holiday season. When a family experiences the loss of a beloved relative, those holiday traditions are often painful reminder of someone who was once there for the festivities.

If you’ve experienced a loss and are feeling overwhelmed this time of year, you’re not alone.

People can take solace during the holidays with the Anything But Merry information sessions hosted by Bereaved Families of Ontario Midwestern Region. Jaime Bickerton, executive director at BFO explained why Christmas can trigger a tidal wave of emotions.

“It’s a time of year when we’re supposed to be together with our loved ones. So, if we’re missing someone, that loss becomes more pronounced,” said Bickerton. “It’s also a time when everybody’s expecting you to feel happy and jolly, but if you’re grieving, that’s not how you’re feeling.”

Anything But Merry is a one-hour education-based information session offered by Bereaved Families of Ontario. This year, the program expanded to offer six sessions in Cambridge, Waterloo, Elmira, Guelph and Fergus.

These sessions assist attendees to realize what they’re feeling is completely normal for someone in grief. Part of the education is also reminding attendees that the first Christmas without a loved one and holidays moving forward will look and feel different.

“We’re trying to be really practical and give people ideas and suggestions around coping strategies they can implement in their own life if they’re grieving,” said Bickerton. “I think there’s a sense of relief that what they’re feeling around this time of year is absolutely normal. Now they have ways they can make it a little bit easier for themselves moving forward.”

Bickerton offers some coping strategies, such as setting a place at the table for your loved one, lighting a candle, hanging a special ornament on the Christmas tree, or simply sharing stories around the dinner table to honour their memory.

Managing expectations with family members and friends is key to coping with holiday stress. While some prefer to have that comfort from family members and friends, for others, attending a big holiday family gathering may be the last thing people want to do.

Bickerton said it’s important to develop a game plan and an exit strategy for holiday gatherings if the situation becomes too stressful. “One of the things we encourage is if you’re able to attend parties and family gatherings is to have an escape plan in place. Letting one of the hosts know that if you’re having a hard time, ‘I’m going to duck out and I don’t want to make a big deal about it.’ I think that alleviates some of the anxiety going into those social situations.”

Bereaved Families of Ontario offers their Anything But Merry information sessions free of charge, with three upcoming sessions taking place over the next two weeks. Dates include Tuesday, Dec. 11 in Fergus and Thursday, Dec. 13 in Cambridge. Attendees can register for free through the Bereaved Families of Ontario website.