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Acceptance can help with holiday stress, feelings of loss

As I sit at Jeannie Bird Bakery, I look out the window on this dismal, misty day, I ponder the Vietnamese monk; Thich Nhat Hanh's quote: "All of man's suffering is his inability to accept the way things are."

As we enter December — a month of great joy for some, yet unbearable sadness for others — that statement resonates.

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For many, the holiday season is a time with family and friends, a time of hustle and bustle, and a beautiful time of year. For others, the holiday season accentuates the loneliness, emptiness, and loss that they carry with them. The feeling that holidays are meant to be spent with loved ones is typically imprinted on our minds from a young age, and can remind us of the passage of time. Since holidays are associated with being with those we love most, it's understandably difficult to cope when you have lost someone special. During the holiday season, it's natural to miss those loved ones even more than usual. Celebrating family togetherness will often magnify your loss. Acknowledging your feelings of grief is a way to soothe your pain.

I am reminded almost daily of the various experiences of loss that is often felt when an aging person faces the reality of their life. Loss of independence and the life they once knew may be affected by many factors. Last night in fact, a client said, "I just want my life back."

Aging would seem to have an accompanying wisdom that things will change, people will change, and life will become a series of compromises and loss — but it doesn't. Acceptance is hard. Preparation and forethought may take the edge off the sting but it's never really real until it happens.

For those who struggle and fight against inevitable loss or changes as we age, there may be a larger toll. The fight for independence often is the one thing that snatches it away. Stubbornness, hard-headedness (words I often hear from children of those aging who refuse to accept), is often the culprits that steal independence more than aging itself.

This time of year makes the loss clearer. It's natural to feel you may never enjoy the holidays again. The inability to do what one may have once been able to do, loss of family and friends — even the realization that kids are grown and it's just not the same anymore — can trigger feelings of grief this time of year. All these feelings of loss or sadness undoubtedly affect family dynamics, and often the holidays can bring these dynamics to the surface. Children who return home may notice changes in a parent's health, and may inadvertently seem to take over. This is usually not well received by a parent who still feels in control and may not notice their declining health as much as their loved ones do. That said, don't get me wrong here, there are times when loved ones must intervene to assure their loved ones health and safety.

Communication and discussion are essential to address the issues. We should all be sensitive to our loved ones' choices, and I have discussed before the right to self-determination. Sometimes our loved ones make choices that may appear to be bad choices. However, unless your family member is incapable of making decisions, they have the right to make their own choices — even if they are choices which may eventually lead to negative consequences.

This brings us full circle to the fight and sometimes the "stubbornness" that leads to loss of independence.

During the holidays, it's important to acknowledge feelings of sadness and grief and talk about how you are feeling. Don't keep your feelings bottled up, and ask others for help. Depression that is suppressed and unrecognized can lead to health problems and even cognitive decline. Recognize and accept that the holidays may never be the same as they were in the past. In time, most families are able to find meaning again in new traditions as a new form of the holiday spirit takes place.

Be kind and gentle to yourself during this time, and be kind to others who may be just muddling through the holidays. Don't feel pressured to do anything that does not soothe your soul and your loss. Acceptance may be the answer to ease the holiday stress and feelings of loss.

Jill Rosner is a registered nurse, certified geriatric care manager and owner of Rosner Healthcare Navigation. She provides patient advocacy and care management services to clients with health and aging issues. Contact her at JillRosnerRN@aol.com.

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