WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The holiday season is a time many anticipate being with family and creating new memories. However, it can be a dark time for people who have suffered a recent loss or long for Christmas holidays past.
That’s why its important for those who feel like they’re on top of the mountain emotionally to know how to appropriately relate to friends or family members who may be in the proverbial valley.
“Not everybody sees Christmas or the holidays in a joyful moment, they could be going through a really bad time so its important to realize people may be going through that,” said Jonathan Conrad, senior pastor at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wilmington.
Conrad speaks from a very personal place about loss because his father passed away in 2009. A decade later, he says there are emotional triggers that cause feelings of sadness and sorrow.
“Absolutely, it could be a song, it could be just looking back at a memory and you can’t really plan for it to happen, but it does and when it does, you just have to deal with it,” Conrad said.
For someone inclined to tell a grieving person to ‘just get over it,’ Conrad says that’s not a really empathetic way to help a person trying to heal emotionally from such a significant loss.
“Then it makes it more about you than the person who is grieving,” he said. “We all have our own personal timetable when it comes to getting over someone that we love especially if they are really apart of our soul or apart of our life, so we have to be respectful for people who mourn either briefly or for a very long time.”
Instead of jumping in quickly offering advice to someone grieving, Conrad says its more caring and productive to simply listen.
“Sometimes, the best answer is just to listen to people and not try to think of something to say to make them feel better,” Conrad said. “A lot of people just need a chance to share or vent with people to get it off their chest and you could be that person to be there for them.”
Conrad says there’s another way friends or family can help someone struggling emotionally –know their story.
“Recently, we had a member of our church pass away and it was right around the time of their birthday so I called her daughter just to see how they’re doing,” Conrad recalled. “If you know someone who is a friend, a dear member of the family or community, and you know they have lost someone recently, reach out to them to say ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you today, how are you doing?'”
If you are personally struggling with depression during the holidays, Conrad recommends being honest with yourself and others. Don’t try to mask your feelings.
“It’s ok if you’re struggling, it’s ok if you’re sad around the holiday season, sometimes we want to make people feel bad because they feel bad,” Conrad said. “I think we just need to give people the room and the space to say ‘Look guys, I’m not happy right now, I’m going through something.'”
Conrad says he sometimes reminds his wife or kids that if he feels distant it’s not because of them but rather the emotions he may be feeling about the loss of his father.
“Having people that you can be honest with and they can understand what you are going through, it really does help, it doesn’t solve but it helps you get through those tough times,” he said.
If you are experiencing a really difficult time and need professional counseling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available 24/7.