Have the Holidays left you feeling the weight of loss?

The holidays are a time that most Albertans take to come together as a family. It’s a time for connection and reflection, but not all Albertans were able to meet the holidays with a sense of joy this year. For those experiencing grief and loss, this holiday season was likely a reminder of the ones we have lost.

This season was especially challenging because of the pandemic; there has been an increase in deaths related to COVID-19 and Albertans are facing increased feelings of loneliness and uncertainty. David Maenhout, Primary Care Network Mental Health Therapist, has seen the effects of isolation during the holidays first-hand. He says, “we are flooded with images, conversations, and experiences around this time that focus on family and community. If we are isolated or lonely during the holidays, witnessing others surrounded by- and engaged with their social networks- we may start to compare our experience with theirs and this produces a deeper sense of loneliness.”


If grief has been impacting you over the last month, what can you do to help yourself get through it? Acknowledging your grief and emotions is the first step. Maenhout says, “despite sometimes being uncomfortable, grief is inherently normal and healthy. You may need to check in with what your grief is telling you about your needs. Perhaps it is telling you that you need to reminisce and share a memory, maybe it’s telling you that you need a good cry, or need space, or a hug. Whatever is present, is okay.” Lori Deverdenne, Primary Care Network Behavioural Health Consultant, believes “it’s important to acknowledge the loss of a loved one... set some time aside specifically to think about this person and what they meant to you, rather than trying to avoid the sadness and grief.”


Both professionals agree that it’s important to talk to others that you’re comfortable with about your feelings. Deverdenne says, “often we tend to keep our feelings of grief inside for fear of upsetting others, when they are likely feeling the same way.” Maenhout concludes that, “healthy grieving is not about forgetting or “getting over” one’s loss; it is about acknowledging the reality of the loss and maintaining a transformed relationship to the loss.” For some, he believes that incorporating their loss into a holiday ritual going forward can be helpful. This may be as simple as lighting a candle you’ve designated to represent your loss.


Serena Hunt, Primary Care Network LPN, recommends that folks “take time to count the blessings that you have, as simple or menial as they may seem. Volunteer or donate. Give time or even a smile.” Giving to others can make people feel better about what they’re going through and give meaning to troubling times.


If you are needing extra support after this past holiday season, you’re not alone. Primary Care Network offers a workshop dedicated to grieving Albertans. The workshop, Alberta Journeying Through Grief, teaches practical skills to help people begin healing from loss and reinvest in their lives. “I have witnessed many patients benefit tremendously from the material, the sharing of experiences, and the community support that is a part of the PCN workshops,” says Maenhout. Hunt says, “[The workshop] isn’t about taking the grief away, but developing a new relationship with it so that it isn’t such a heavy burden to carry”. It is free and widely accessible throughout the province.

To register for this workshop, please visit https://albertafindadoctor.ca/workshops/home?zone-ids[]=alberta-wide.


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