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Families share common experiences on holidays after loved one’s death

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Coping with the death of a loved one during the holidays is hard no matter the type of loss. Whether it be a spouse, a parent, a child or a sibling, one person’s grief is not worse than another’s, said Trudy Tharpe, executive director of Community Grief Support Service in the Homewood area of Birmingham, Ala. “You can’t compare losses,” she said.
David Rice of Birmingham lost his wife of 39 years, Bobbie, earlier this year to cancer. Gail Bynon of Forestdale, Ala., lost her husband of 34 years in May 1997 of sleep apnea. Steve and Sharron Gross of Hokes Bluff lost their 16-year-old son, Lee, four years ago in an automobile accident. Pat Powell of Birmingham lost her husband of 35 years, Neil, to a heart attack six years ago. Vickie Hester of Phil Campbell lost her dad 14 years ago also to a heart attack.
While the time frame and circumstances of the deaths differ, all agree that facing the holidays brings tears and sad moments.
“As joyous as the upcoming holidays are, … these days can be doubly painful,” said Rice, a member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham. “There are so many reminders, so many memories and the griever faces them alone.”
Powell, a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, said the holidays are different now. Having spent last month’s Thanksgiving Day eating with friends at a country club, Powell said the holidays are hard.
While she did not do anything special to prepare herself for that first holiday season without her husband, Powell said she probably had it easier than some. “We didn’t stick to traditional things too much, she said. “That probably made it a little easier for me.”
And while one never gets over the death of a loved one, Powell said, “you do adjust.”
Hester, who lost her dad when she was 13, said time has worked the opposite effect on her. “The first Christmases weren’t as hard as they are now,” she said.
“I now realize what we missed,” said Hester, member of Mountain View Baptist Church in Phil Campbell. Thinking about what her father missed seeing her accomplish ­- high school sports, high school graduation, college graduation, coaching ­- is what makes it hard, she noted.
“He would enjoy more than anything that I teach and coach,” she said. “The holidays are harder because the memories come back stronger during the holidays. … It is a time for family and time when people reminisce.” As far as coping with the grief, Hester said, “You just do it.”
Bynon, who is facing her second Christmas without her husband, said this year is a little easier than last year because she has a new grandbaby who will take the focus.
“I’m blessed because I have kids,” said Bynon, a member of Westwood Baptist in Forestdale. “Staying busy and surrounding myself with family and friends is what has gotten me through.”
Sharron Gross agreed that a grandchild can ease the pain. “The holidays are very hard for us, but we have a [6-year-old] grandson we plan around,” said Gross, a member of First Baptist Church, Hokes Bluff. “He was a blessing at the right time.”
Gross, who also lost a brother 19 years ago in an airplane crash, said that while she focuses on her grandson during Christmas, she does not want to forget her son nor her brother, Jeff.
“I live on memories,” she said, noting the importance for others to acknowledge and remember the loss of a loved one.
“Some people don’t ask you how you are doing because they don’t want to make you upset, but for me it is special for people to remember Lee,” Gross said.
Rice encourages those who know people grieving during the holidays to call, send cards and allow them the opportunity to talk about their loved ones. “Share your memories,” he said. “Cry with them and laugh with them. The best medicine you can give is a compassionate, listening ear.”

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash