Special service aims to help grieving people cope during the holiday season
On Dec. 18, 1988 Danny Steele cut a Christmas tree for his family.
The next day, the 15-year-old took his own life.
His mother, Mary Steele, has learned to cope with her son's death by helping others go through the grieving process.
This evening, Steele will share her family's story during a "Coping with the Holidays" service organized by Eastern Health.
"I'll be giving a little history of who we are as a family and then I'll talk about the most dreadful time of my life - when my son died - my reaction to his death and how I worked through the grief process," Steele says.
After Danny died, Steele turned to her family, friends and pastoral care professionals for help in picking up the pieces of her life.
"It's difficult to do, but being able to talk about our family's grief and recovery at different seminars has really helped. The whole world is there to help, thank goodness," she says.
Steele says it's important for people who have lost a loved one to realize that they are not alone in their feelings.
"People also need to know that what they're going through is normal," she says.
For those who have experienced a loss, the holiday season can be a particularly difficult time.
People who are grieving should not feel pressured into continuing family traditions if they don't feel comfortable doing so, Steele says.
"If you don't feel like sending cards, don't. If you still want to send them, then send them. If you don't feel like putting up a Christmas tree, don't, no matter what people say or how you feel they're going to react."
While the pain of losing someone close to you never completely goes away, Steele says, it is possible to learn to cope with the loss.
"I'm very grateful for those who sat and listened to me. There always seemed to be somebody coming up to me and saying, 'How are you doing today?' And there were times when I'd say, 'I'm having a rough day.' And then we could talk."
People who are mourning a loss know themselves who it is they can open up to, she says.
"Sometimes it could be a complete stranger," Steele says.
"Coping with the Holidays " is sponsored by Eastern Health's bereavement advisory committee and pastoral care department.
The aim of the session is to help people face memories of their deceased loved ones.
Christmas traditions and music are just some of the things that can trigger memories of those who are no longer here to share in the celebration of the season.
"We're trying to help people understand about grief within the context of the holidays," said Maj. Colleen Wells, manager of pastoral care and ethics at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.
The service - a blend of music, reflection and information - should help those who've had to grapple with the death of a loved one in the past few years.
Wells said she will give practical pointers about the grief process and let people who've lost someone they love know it's OK to do things differently.
"Just because you did something a certain way as a family in the past, doesn't mean you have to do the exact same thing this year," she says.
Laurie Anne O'Brien, regional palliative care consultant with Eastern Health, will give a presentation entitled "Helping Yourself Help Others."
At the end of the evening, people at the service will be invited to choose a dove in memory of their loved one from a Christmas tree decorated with the white birds.
"The dove is symbolic of peace and hope, and this is our way of giving back to the people," Wells says.
"Coping with the Holidays" runs from 7-9 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Health Sciences Centre's main auditorium.
Parking is free in Lot 9.
While there is no admission charge, a donation box will be available for anyone who'd like to contribute to help cover the cost of the doves.
For more information, call 777-6959. For information about a similar session planned for the Burin area, contact Jacinta Penney at (709) 466-6356.
Getting through grief
Tips for helping yourself deal with profound loss.
• Take time to grieve. There's no way to rush recovering from a loss, nor can you push away your feelings forever.
• Find people to talk to who can understand, and let them be there for you.
• Allow yourself to ask others for what you need.
• Use support groups or professional counselling services.
• Write a letter or make a tape to express your unspoken feelings and to say goodbye.
• Realize that it's natural to feel "crazy" at times.
• Don't expect too much of yourself too soon.
• Avoid making major decisions and changes in your life.
• Get help for practical needs: paying bills, home repairs, etc.
• Try to take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
• Collect memories of the person who died. Talk to someone about your memories.
• Commemorate the person on important dates and anniversaries in a special way.
• Take time off from grieving when you're ready to do something enjoyable or celebrate someone else's happiness.
• Trust that the pain decreases with time and life will be better.
• Explore and participate in religion, faith and spirituality as a resource for hope and support.
Source: Dr. Rick Singleton, pastoral care and ethics department, Eastern Health