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Handling loss during the holidays

The season doesn’t have to be any harder

Posted: November 20, 2008 9:12 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2008 4:30 a.m.

"It's Thanksgiving, I can't believe he's not here."

"I wish I could just cancel Christmas this year."

"How can I go on without (him/her)?"

The empty chair at holiday dinners can cause enormous pain.

Whether it's your first, 10th or 50th year without your loved one, holidays are sad reminders of those we have lost.

"As a society we are not trained or prepared to deal with life's most predictable event and that is loss," said Jeff Zhorne, grief counselor and author.

Zhorne, a resident of Valencia, said loss can include many forms - death, divorce, breakup, retirement, empty nest, loss of trust or any of 40 other losses we can expect during our lifetimes.

"Maybe it's a sad movie or listening to a friend's battle with cancer, and slowly you feel your throat tighten." Zhorne said.

"Feelings may bubble to the surface and get lodged there. Many of us push those feelings right back down. C'mon, heart, be still! This buried pain is very real, has energy and doesn't go away on its own.

"Unresolved grief affects us negatively, sooner or later."

Zhorne said grief often makes itself known when a person least expects the emotion to surface.

Reactions become disproportionate and emotional, mental and physical well-being suffers.

Moving out of fear and isolation
Zhorne said most people realize the need to resolve past loss issues and finish unfinished emotional business.

"But you rarely hear how to actually do that," he said. "How do we move out of fear and isolation? How do we end the pain?"

After the deaths of his two children in an auto accident, Zhorne found himself stuck in wishing things had been different and regretting not spending more time with them.

"The pain, isolation and loneliness were unbearable," he said.

He even reached the point of not wanting to be reminded of his children.

"But I didn't have that choice," he said. "Thanks to grief recovery, I was able to finish what was so I could begin to live with what is."

The more completion work he did, the fewer things were left unfinished, and the more he began to cherish fond memories of his children, Jeremy and Amelia.

"They both left a legacy of love, not pain. I started to remember them for the way they lived, not the way they died," he said.

After much education and training, Zhorne made many discoveries about himself and the process of emotional healing. The result is The Grief Program.

"The mission of The Grief Program is to help hurting people complete relationships that have ended or changed because of death or divorce," he said.

Zhorne is a certified grief counselor and his practice is centered in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Loss of hopes and dreams
Zhorne said recovery starts by being able to freely express all the thoughts and emotions connected with loss. Maybe it's regret, or grieving the loss of unrealized hopes and broken dreams.

"If you are tired of temporary pain relief, tired of quenching in, and want to expand your life and relationships, learn to finish unfinished emotional business and move beyond loss," said Zhorne. "With the correct tools we can cherish fond memories of our loved ones. Sad memories won't hurt us anymore."

Finally, he pointed to steps for getting through the holidays:

n Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. Surrounding grief are many myths such as bury your feelings, grieve alone, just give it time, act like everything is OK.

The truth is, pain is real and it hurts. Emotions are part of a normal grief response. You will work through emotions more quickly and easily if you allow them.

n Tell the truth about yourself. Let people know if you're having a tough day.

n Choose invitations to be with close family or friends that sound the most appealing and avoid the ones that feel more like obligation.

n Share your favorite stories over dinner, make a toast or light a candle in remembrance.

n Don't expect to go through defined stages of grief. Every person is different and every relationship is unique.

n If you have lost a loved one and can get to the cemetery, it's OK to tell him or her how you feel. You don't need a response. You need to let it out.

n No one can (or should) recover alone. The pain won't go away by itself. We need people.

Instead of reaching for a cocktail, reach for the phone. Join a support group. Call a grief counselor.

The Grief Program is sponsoring a free community presentation on the skills needed for working through loss at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 10, at Santa Clarita City Hall, 23920 Valencia Blvd., Valencia. For more information call (661) 733-0692.


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