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* Cynthia Bozich Keith

December 7, 2009

Prof: Tips to help those grieving during holidays about death, money

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Loss of a loved one, job or health can dampen the holiday spirit for many people and isolate or separate them from what used to bring happiness, says a Purdue University nursing expert.

"The holidays are often rich in tradition with the gathering of family and friends, music, food, and gift exchanges," says Cynthia Bozich Keith, a clinical associate professor of nursing. "When traditions change due to the loss of a loved one, loss of health, and, in recent times, the loss of financial security, what was once happy and joyous may be an especially difficult time, leaving many to wonder how to cope and get through it all.

"These losses may mean people are celebrating or looking at the holidays in a different way this year. If it's a financial loss, they may feel guilty they are not able to provide for the family as they have before, and this can certainly add stress to a person's life."

Bozich Keith says people struggling with such strains of grief need to take care of themselves both emotionally and physically by eating nutritiously, being physically active, getting adequate sleep and avoiding alcohol.

Friends and family members who know someone who is suffering can help by listening and being patient. How people grieve is unique to each person, she says.

"Even if it's been two, five or 10 years since that person's loss, people may still need to mourn or talk through it," Bozich Keith says. "Be patient with people and let them tell you their story. Being a good listener means focusing on that person and really hearing what they are saying. Clarify and make sure you understand what they are saying, and validate that person's feelings by acknowledging how they feel."

Bozich Keith says that people often hesitate about supporting a loved one because they are worried about saying the wrong thing and making their sadness worse, further isolating the person they want to help.

"Be upfront and say, 'I'm not sure what the right words are, but I'm thinking about you and would like to help,'" she says. "Then follow up by taking the initiative to call them and invite them to lunch or take them dinner. Be with them. Offer to do something; don't wait for them to ask. Reaching out to others is hard for people who are grieving."

Here are some other suggestions for people who are struggling during the holidays:

* Be gentle with yourself. Be sure to take time out to care for yourself, whether it is through pampering or just slowing down your pace.

* Set limits. Be realistic about the difference between what you want to do and what you can do versus what you should do.

* Don't feel guilty if you find yourself enjoying yourself around the holidays.

* Embrace your memories and find comfort in them.

* Celebrate life. Attend a holiday or religious service if faith is part of your life. Donate to a charity in memory, volunteer or participate in a community walk or run.

* Recognize it is acceptable to create new traditions.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: Cynthia Bozich Keith, 765-494-4026,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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