3 questions: No holiday from grief

Karen Sorensen

When you’re coping with the death of a loved one, making it through the holidays is especially difficult. Kenneth Doka, a professor at The College of New Rochelle (N.Y.) and author of more than a dozen books on grieving, offers advice on how to make it through, and how you can help others.

Is there a right way to deal with my grief?

No. Everyone does it differently, Doka says. Some people want to ignore or escape the holidays, others pretend nothing's changed. It's better instead to admit things are going to be different -- and difficult. He advises using the three Cs -- choose what you want to do, communicate that with those around you, and be willing to compromise.

Are there things I can do that will help?

"Be gentle with yourself," Doka says. His suggestions: If you don't feel like sending holiday cards, skip it this year. If you don't want to go shopping, buy gifts online or give cash. If you go to a party, drive yourself so you can leave when you want. Find positive ways to remember your loved one -- give a toast or light a candle in their memory. If someone says something you find upsetting, remember that wasn't his or her intent. Try not to overindulge in alcohol or turn to drugs for relief.

How can I help someone who is grieving?

Take your cues from them, Doka says. If they feel like talking about the person who died, listen to them and share your memories. If they don't want to go out or be social, respect their choice. Avoid saying things such as, "I hope this is your best Christmas ever" or "Don't let this ruin your holiday." Instead of vaguely saying you're there if they need you, Doka says, do something "tangible" such as telling them you're going shopping and inviting them to come along.