Pastors and health professions discuss grief during the holidays

Dec. 23—While the holidays can be a happy time for many people, others feel the blues dealing with holiday grief.

"We don't often feel like we are in the holiday spirit when we are grieving," Phillip Lee Sr., senior pastor at Cedar Creek Church, said.

Christmas is supposed to be a joyous season, but many are dealing with grief. Grief can be the loss of a loved one, a job or anything that leads to some form of sadness.

A 2021 survey released by Experience Camps reported that 36% of Americans don't feel like celebrating the holidays because of grief.

"Grief is always difficult and the holidays have a way of intensifying the sense of loss," Lee said.

Patrick Chambers, CEO of Aurora Behavioral Health Services, said grief is common during the holidays because feelings like joy could be out of reach for someone grieving. Chambers said simple activities like family get-togethers could make those who are grieving feel worse.

Signs of grief could include self-isolation, crying spells, refusing food, excessive eating or drinking and disrupted sleep, Chambers said.

Paul Bush, senior pastor at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, also serves as chaplain and bereavement coordinator at Aiken Regional Medical Centers and holds a free grief support group the second Thursday of the month at noon and 6 p.m.

He also provides spiritual guidance.

"We'll be dealing with this for many years to come because there are so many people who are in pain and agony, bereavement with that," Bush said.

Bush said over the last several months, he has met with a lot of individuals who are grieving. Grief is common the first few years after a loss and he said it is hard because the person grieving has a tradition created around the departed.

"You do learn how to be strong and learn to live with enough to deal with the grief in another dimension," Bush said.

It's hard

Lee said to help people to cope during the holidays he has something called a Blue Christmas in which people can come together to discuss grief. The service is like a religious service in which people can share thoughts and feelings and maybe share some hope.

Lee, who lost his son to suicide in 2018, said during the holiday season the family has created a separate Christmas tree.

It is called a memory tree and has ornaments that remind the family of Phillip Jr.

"Doing that honors his memory, but it also helps us to have his memory with us," Lee said.

Bush said over the last few months, he meets with a lot of individuals who are grieving through the holidays but helps them find ways for them to move on through encouragement.

Sometimes people feel guilty because their loved on are no longer around.

"Just because they miss the traditional part of what they used to do with the loved one," Bush said.

Getting out and happy memories

Chambers said volunteering or doing something outside the house can help someone who is dealing with grief.

"Even getting together with a group of people in small doses can be helpful to a person," he said.

Some strategies he provided are telling people not to be sad because the lost loved one wouldn't want them to be sad, holding on to holiday traditions or creating new ones or finding a new hobby.

"If the person that you loved was here, do you think that they would want you to feel the feelings that you feel," Chambers said.

Bush said people should take it day-by-day and try and go to someone's house if invited.

"We want everyone to know that during this yuletide season somebody loved them and that we are here to support them," Bush said.

Those who are feeling grief or a sense of loss can call Bush at (803) 640-4568 or Aurora Pavilion Behavioral Health Services at (803) 641-5900.

If it's an emergency, it is best to call 911.