"A Valley of Tragedy": Coping

Grief Support Professional Sandy Gunnarson singing her self-wrote song at the event. (Signal photo/ Aliyah Stoeckl)

Coping with the loss of a loved one can be an important factor when preparing for the holidays. There’s a constant reminder of a missing seat at the dinner table. To help the community cope with grief and loss in the midst of the holiday season,  Community Hospice in Modesto hosted its annual “Self-Care During The Holidays” event.

During the event, Bob Taylor, a volunteer at the facility, shared his journey. Taylor lost his father in July of 2016. The first major holiday without his father was Christmas.

“It was definitely different because my dad always wanted to make sure that everybody had [what they needed], whether it was food, gifts, or whatever. He would be that person, out on the 11th hour on Christmas Eve, trying to find a Tickle-Me-Elmo or buying a shrimp tray when we already had too much food to begin with,” Taylor said during his presentation.

Taylor also expressed that sometimes you just want someone who’s a good listener and keeps traditions alive to honor our loved ones.

Roni Edgmon is also a volunteer at community hospice. During her speech, Edgmon encouraged everyone to sit down with their your families and talk about what you need to get through the holidays. She also advised the audience to not be discouraged by the rush of the holidays, the music, and seeing commercials with families.

Additionally, Edgmon elaborated on something that can come as an overwhelming surprise for many grieving families during this time of the year. “Once we are together as family and friends, everyone is afraid to say your [passed] loved one's name. They are talked about so little. They don't want to bring it up, and all you want to do is hear their name.”

Edgmon insists that this isn't because of them being selfish, but because they're afraid it will make others sad and uncomfortable.

To help with this problem, Edgmon suggests to create a "paper chain." If it's Thanksgiving, write down one thing you're thankful for that this person gave to you. This creates a door for people to talk about them. For Christmas, individuals can bring an ornament that reminds you of that person. It gives people the opportunity to create an open-arm environment.

Edgmon delivered a reassuring message to those who may be a bit more emotional than others. “Don’t be afraid to say no. Grieving is exhausting... It's okay to say, 'I can't do that this year.' Make sure you take care of yourself.”

Grief support professional, Sandy Gunnarson, was the event's keynote speaker. She shared her story of coping while grieving. 

Gunnarson is married with four children and holds the void of her brother Phil. She explains how we all walk through miles of a dry “valley of tragedy” after losing someone dear to us.

“It is not a vacation destination, so I find myself in this valley and I'm carrying such a heavy weight, and it's as if there's a backpack on me with my pack of grief. As I look inside, I recognize emotional grenades. These have names: Anger, Resentment, Regret, Fear,” Gunnarson said.

Gunnarson explained that those who are suffering are in the same valley but on a different journey. In these moments it's okay to take a break from grief, receive permission to laugh again, and enjoy life. 

“The unaddressed grenades that we carry on our backs somehow get heavier, more explosive when they are just left undealt with. If we choose to live in that denial and don't walk through the process of grieving, it's as if we are choosing to build a house, living inside of our tragedies,” said Gunnarson.

In the closing, everyone was encouraged to remember our loved ones in our hearts this holiday season.

“Remember the fun things. Laugh, if you have too. Take care of you. Don't be afraid to say their name, and remember that they are right there with you,”  Egdmon advised. 

Community Hospice offers the community support groups that are open to the public. Internship opportunities at Community Hospice are also available for Stan State students.

If you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with a loss, you can contact the Community Hospice by calling (209) 578-6300 or by contacting the Stan State Psychological Counseling Services. Additional information on how to cope with grief can also be found here.

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