When The Holidays Hurt

02 Dec 2023

Managing Grief and Loneliness During the Most Wonderful Time of the Year


In the fall of 2021, my family lost our beloved matriarch due to complications from a stroke. While I had experienced grief before, the death of my mother-in-law on the heels of a global pandemic was particularly difficult. It didn’t help that it happened just before the holidays. Her passing changed our family, and it changed how we gathered. Two years later, we are each still coming to terms with her absence, but we are working to become a more cohesive extended family again, communicating more regularly about the ebbs and flows of our daily lives, as well as working through our loss together. By showing ourselves and each other grace and love, we are healing.

We are not alone in our struggle. According to the latest federal census data, one in three adults are experiencing depression. That number jumps to nearly 50% among those ages 18-24. For anyone who is lonely, depressed, or grieving, the holiday season, considered the most wonderful time of year by many, can be one of the most difficult and can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loss.

Michael Greene, one of the highly qualified therapists at The Counseling Center, explained why feelings of grief, loneliness, and sadness are sometimes amplified during the holiday season, “I suspect the reasons are varied, but the holidays are often a time when families come together, old traditions are celebrated, and new ones are born. We naturally remember and reflect on our lives at times like these, and the people and things that we may be concerned about, or that are simply missing, come to the front of our minds. This can leave us feeling wistful. The best way to prepare for this is to work on developing healthy, adaptive coping skills and cultivate social support.”

He offered some simple, yet profound, suggestions for families who are trying to support a loved one struggling during the holidays, “Show them love. Remember that everyone grieves differently, so trying to tell them what to do is not helpful. Do not assume you know what they're feeling. Keep checking in on them and try to include them in activities, but don’t pressure them. It’s important they don’t feel judged or devalued on account of their struggle. Try to spend time with them and encourage them, without pressure, to talk. Tell them you sense that they’re not feeling well. Just listen and try to understand what they are going through. We want them to feel our support and recognize it as something they can count on. This is most effectively accomplished through what we do, not what we say.”

This past April, recognizing a growing need in their community, The Counseling Center offered a grief support group. Greene spoke about this experience, “It was simply a support group opportunity for community members still in the throes of coping and healing after the loss of a loved one. The aim was to provide fellowship, education, and support: to promote healing, in a safe, confidential, and accepting environment.”

In the coming months, The Counseling Center will start a community training program focused on suicide prevention, made possible through a generous grant from the Mountaintop Rotary Club of Highlands. LivingWorks is a suicide prevention and awareness training program that in “just 90 minutes trains participants to recognize when someone may be thinking about suicide and how to connect them to help and support. Contact Leslie Manning, the executive director of The Counseling Center, if you would like to participate in one of these training sessions. Better yet, set up a time for your employees, coworkers, church community, or other peer groups, to take the training together at no cost to you.”

The Counseling Center offers a variety of support resources to plateau residents and beyond to help those suffering from mental health issues. To ensure equity and accessibility to quality counseling resources, the Center provides services on a sliding payment scale. They have worked to ensure that payment is not a barrier to a patient receiving the care they need. Leslie Manning wants area residents to know that “The Counseling Center strives to strengthen families and individuals by providing access to quality mental health services regardless of financial ability. We have two therapists available for individual or couples counseling. We partner closely with two other important nonprofit agencies, the International Friendship Center and the Community Care Clinic. Additionally, we have connections with other providers off the plateau to support more acute or specific needs such as substance use, play therapy for younger children, etc.”

Manning recognizes that ongoing mental health support is imperative to the plateau community, “The Counseling Center wants to be a steady resource for the community and provide relevant spaces for healing and growth. We look forward to offering other groups in the future, which likely will include another grief group, parenting workshops, and reprieve for caretakers. We are grateful for the thoughtful leadership of our therapists and the support of our funders, and we look forward to continuing to serve the plateau community as best we can. Additionally, we are taking new clients and hope anyone in need of mental health care will book an appointment with one of our licensed counselors today. "

Please contact Leslie Manning, leslie@counseling-center.org to participate in LivingWorks or to find out more about providers available at The Counseling Center. To book an appointment go to www.counseling-center.org/therapists. You can also call The Counseling Center directly at 864-481-0598.

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