Source Newsroom: Baylor University
Newswise — Grief experts say it is easy to lose awareness that people all around us have experienced some sort of loss – the death of a loved one, divorce, deployment or even job loss – that will greatly impact holidays and other special occasions. So how does a family get through the holidays, while working through the grieving process?
Helen W. Harris, Ed.D., senior lecturer at Baylor University’s School of Social Work, researches grief and loss, and even teaches a class on the subject. But there is a difference between teaching grief and experiencing it.
Five years ago, Harris and her family became Exhibit A of how to handle the unexpected death of a loved one during a holiday. Right after her family’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, Harris’s father-in-law collapsed and died of a sudden heart attack. With the grief still fresh, Harris’s family was faced with managing another major holiday only a month later.
“The awareness of what had been a fun family gathering in the past was now sort of something that we were dreading. Are we going to be more focused on giving thanks for the incredible life my father-in-law lived and what he meant to us, or are we going to be more focused on the horror of those couple of hours?” Harris said.
Harris’s family chose to remember her father-in-law the following Christmas by placing ornaments bearing his name on all family members’ trees. “It acknowledged how important he is and symbolically said, even though you’re not here physically, you’re still here and part of what we’re doing.”
As families work through their grief, it is important, Harris says, to plan ahead what works best for them.
“In some cases that means going back to that home and having dinner together. It might be to do something completely different,” Harris says. “Everyone has to find their own way, but the only way that happens is if people acknowledge that this is a profound event and we as a family have figure out what we feel about it and what we need to do that will help us heal. That’s true for people all around us.”
In her class and throughout her own grieving process, Harris uses the recommendations in James E. Miller’s book – How Will I Get Through the Holidays? – that focus on facing the first holiday without a loved one:
1. Accept the likelihood of your pain
2. Feel whatever it is you feel
3. Express your emotions
4. Plan ahead
5. Take charge where you can
6. Turn to others for support
7. Be gentle with yourself
8. Remember to remember
9. Search out and count your blessings
10. Do something for others
11. Give voice to your soul
12. Harbor hope
She reminds her students to be aware of making assumptions that everyone’s experiences resemble their own.
“If I’m going home for the holidays to see my parents and my siblings, I assume everyone’s doing that, and I might not realize that the person sitting next to me in class no longer has parents,” Harris says.
Harris served as bereavement coordinator and the first director of Hillcrest Community Hospice in Waco, Texas. She joined the Baylor social work faculty in 1997 but has continued her work as a hospice volunteer and providing volunteer training for several central Texas-area hospice programs.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.
ABOUT THE BAYLOR SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK
The Baylor University School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda focused on the integration of faith and practice. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (BSW), a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and three joint-degree options (MSW/Master of Business Administration, MSW/Master of Divinity and MSW/Master of Theological Studies) through a partnership with Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Visit www.baylor.edu/social_work to learn more.