Overcoming the ghosts of Christmas past

Thursday, November 20, 2003

As Americans begin racing through shopping malls, planning parties and cooking elaborate meals this month, hopes are high for a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah or joyous Kwanzaa.

During the holidays, expectations about the future and sentimental thoughts about the past merge. Dr. John Hipple, a University of North Texas counselor, says that most Americans expect to have a good time during the holidays, "yet hopes of happy times can be dashed by memories of trauma and loss."

"Dealing with sad feelings at a time when society expects us to be happy can cause major conflict and even depression," he says.

Hipple says dealing with sad memories is particularly difficult during the holidays, when events can result in a sad thought.

"While you're carving that Thanksgiving turkey, you might think about who's missing at the table. The empty chair may remind you of Uncle Joe, who died last year. The other empty chair might make you wonder if your husband will return from the war in Iraq," he says.

Hipple says walking under the mistletoe might trigger reminders of a lost love, while lighting the menorah on the first night of Hanukkah could conjure memories of a deceased parent.

"Many people advise their friends and relatives to overcome loss through will power," Hipple says. '"Just get over it,' they say."

Hipple says in American culture, people are not allowed to grieve for very long.

"We are encouraged to get over it and get on with it. We're afraidof death as a whole, while other cultures see death and loss as part of life," he says.

According to Hipple, individuals can walk successfully along the pathway of loss, trauma and grief. Self-dialogue and a support system of friends can help with management of grief, he says.

The first step to dealing with emotion is to acknowledge it, he says.

"If you're happy, be happy. On the other hand, don't deny sadness just because it's the season to be merry," he says.

Hipple says in working through loss and grief, it's helpful to find constructive ways to memorialize loved ones and missed opportunities. He encourages those working through grief to also look for things to celebrate. Finding supportive friends is equally important, he says.

"Recognize that your friends might have different cultural expectationsthan you do, so choose friends you can trust," he says. "Teach yourfriends what is helpful to you and understand that others are not going to takeaway your grief."

Hipple encourages people to be their own best friend during the holidays.

"You don't have to feel out of synch with what's going on around you," he says. "By facing your fears, your sadness and your grief, you can tell yourself you're living in an increasingly positive way. Give yourself the best gift of all — the freedom to have feelings and be yourself."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108