The holidays aren’t always a joyous time for everyone. Sometimes, it can trigger negative feelings and memories, such as grief. The holidays can act as a reminder of the loss of a loved one and can sometimes force us to realize how much our lives changed without that person.
Fortunately, there are multiple nonprofits that not only have resources to help, but also have advice and tips for those of us who may be struggling with grief this holiday season. We talked to two of them in Grand Rapids to ask for advice on how to deal with grief during the holidays.
First, we met with Julie DeJong, program director at Ele’s Place Grand Rapids. Ele’s Place, located at 2000 Michigan St NE, is a healing center for grieving children and teens. Founded in 1991, Ele’s place focuses on helping children to cope with the death of a parent, sibling or other loved one through peer support programs. The vision at Ele’s place is that no child should ever have to grieve alone. Although their model relies specifically on support groups, Ele’s Place refers out for individual counseling.
DeJong offered GR|MAG three tips and strategies to help make grief during the holiday’s a little bit easier.
Three Tips from Ele’s Place
- Give Yourself Some Grace. “There is no ‘right’ way to grieve. This is a journey. Grief is a lifelong process, it is not a single event. Some people expect us to get over grief, and that’s not a thing. But there can be some hope with it, and some happy times and some laughter in the mix of all the tougher feelings as well.”
- Set Limits and Boundaries. “Take it minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour. Everybody is different. Some people are planners, and they want to stick with the plan. Some people like to go with the flow. It’s really about listening to your own needs, and really taking those into consideration. If cooking is helpful and brings you comfort, do it. If it is stressful, maybe delegate it to someone else this year.”
- Take Time Outs. “Even if it’s just getting a cup of tea or coffee, or locking yourself in your room for five minutes, that’s okay. There’s really no right or wrong way to do this, to get through the holidays, but listening to your needs, not just those of your family members. We can only give as much as we have.”
GR|MAG also met with Lindsay Jousma, director of program operations at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, located at 1806 Bridge St NW, is a free cancer and grief support community. Formed in 2001, the motto at Gilda’s Club is “In This Together” and “Learn, Share, Laugh”. While Gilda’s club offers many support groups for people who are either on a cancer or grief journey, it also offers events that aren’t directly cancer or grief related, such as yoga, knitting and self-care workshops. Jousma shared three tips as well.
Three Tips from Gilda’s Club
- Be Thoughtful of What You Participate in This Year. “Give thought to what you might want to change this year, or maybe start a new tradition. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the holidays, maybe look at the to-do list and pick and choose what you are going to do. It might be instead of cooking, go out to eat, or have things catered. Just know that you have a choice and that there’s a sense of control for some things.”
- Communicate.“Communicating is a key to getting through the holidays. Communicating what are your needs and what’s going to be helpful to you this year. Whether it’s at a support group or at a holiday gathering with your friends and family, communicate. Maybe you’re naming the elephant in the room, that it’s tough this year since so-and-so has died, and it would be okay to talk about them. Give permission to talk about that person if it feels right to you.”
- Honor Yourself. “Honor that this is a tough time and grieving can be really challenging, especially during the holidays. The smells, the routine, the traditions, the memories that we naturally have around this time of year can really be triggering to the grieving process. Plug into your community, whether it’s at somewhere like Gilda’s Club or your own family and friends to lean on for support.”
It can also be hard watching your friends and family struggle with grief during the holiday season and looking for a way to help, Gilda’s Club and Ele’s Place offer advice for that as well.
- Be Present. “It’s okay to not have the perfect thing to say,” said Jousma. “Give yourself grace and permission that you might not know exactly what to say to your friends and family who are grieving a death this time of year, but we can still be with them. We can be around them, we can check in with them. Telling them ‘I’ve been thinking of you.’”
- Give Concrete Examples. “A lot of the time we hear, ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do,’ and a lot of the time it’s hard to ask for help,” said DeJong. “Give concrete examples of things that you can do. Maybe suggest, ‘Hey, I’m available on this specific day, can I come over and help you clean up, make you dinner, take care of your dog,’ and so on. Don’t totally push it all the time but try to think of concrete things that you can actually do instead of being open-ended and kind of leaving it on them.”
- Be patient. “Understand that maybe that person won’t attend everything that they once attended,” said Jousma. “This time of year is difficult for someone who is grieving, and that’s okay.”
Both Ele’s Place and Gilda’s Club are nonprofits, meaning they are completely charitability funded. If you’re interested in helping out or giving back, there are multiple ways to do so. They each have multiple locations throughout Michigan, making giving back easy, no matter where you are.
- Volunteering: Ele’s Place heavily relies on their volunteers. There are multiple volunteering opportunities at all of their locations, such as facilitators of children’s groups, working in the office, or helping out at events.
- Fundraising and Donations. Its biggest fundraising event of the year, the Fall Reception, is on Nov. 15 and sponsorship opportunities are available. You can also directly donate to Ele’s Place.
- Wish List. Ele’s Place is always in need of various items to help each of its center’s function. If you’re interested in buying items from their wish list, visit their website and then drop off the items during business hours to the appropriate location.
- Volunteering: Eighty percent of Gilda’s Club is volunteer supported. Whether it’s helping in the garden, kitchen, or training to become a receptionist, there’s a lot of different ways that people can plug into the community.
- Donations: You can donate directly to Gilda’s Club. One-hundred percent of every donated dollar stays in West Michigan to help the clubhouse and its members.
- Wish List: Gilda’s Club also has a wish list of their most frequently used items. If you’re interested in buying something from their wish list, visit their website and drop off the items to the clubhouse during business hours.
For more information or to find resources from either Ele’s Place or Gilda’s Club, visit their websites. The grief recovery hotline is 1-800-445-4808. Remember, there are resources, and you are not alone.
*Main photo courtesy of Thinkstock Photos