Toms River and Freehold Local Ministries Help With Holiday Grief

The Christmas season seemed to arrive even earlier this year, with decorations lighting some of the area’s public squares and private landscapes the night after Halloween.
These twinkling lights are meant as a joyous signal of the holidays and holy days to come. But for those dealing with the loss of loved ones, the season may bring even more pain, sorrow and anger say area grief counselors and bereavement ministers.
The aim is to keep the rush of memories, especially strong at this time of year, from overwhelming those experiencing them, say Ann Ascione-Hardman of the Bereavement Support Group in St. Luke Parish; Rev. Scott Thayer of the GriefShare program at the Presbyterian Church of Toms River; and Bernice Garfield Szita and Bob Szita of Grief Information Education and Recovery Services (GIERS) based in Freehold.
“We start in September,” Ascione-Hardman said. “Grief and the holidays is a real focus every year. Some don’t want to go to their families, everyone is grieving in a different way. We tell them don’t anticipate the worst.We give out a lot of information to read and many suggestions,” to help strengthen the members of the group.
The 13-week GriefShare program Thayer leads began earlier this fall. He also conducted to special workshops on holiday grief which drew more than 40 people to the faith center that is a landmark on on Hooper Avenue.
He advocates taking the time to sit down and relieve stress by making a list of what likely can be accomplished (from sending cards to baking cookies); substituting new some new traditions for ones that bring back sad memories; making “tentative” plans; and being honest about the fact that you don’t know if you will be up to them when the time comes.

“Say to yourself, ‘Do I have to do this?’ Give yourself control,” Thayer says. “Take a break. Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t put on a plastic face and say it’s OK when it isn’t.”

Married counselors Bernice Garfield Szita and Bob Szita gave a November 9 presentation on the stages of grief, sharing how important it is for those weighed down by the loss of a loved one to “figure out what to do” in regard to the holidays this year.
The subject surfaces at their group sessions and presentations annually as the leaves begin to fall, they said. Because the season is “normally a source of great joy,” it’s only natural to consider the impact the loss of a loved one will make, they said.
Their audience of more than 20 people at the monthly session the parish hosts for the community on topical subjects listened intently as the couple explained that it is for those who are grieving to pick and choose what they what they are up to doing.
It’s also OK, said the couple, to modify long-standing traditions or even start new ones. “It’s OK to say no if you want to,” she said. “It’s OK to choose things that are less painful. It’s up to each person to figure out what is better for them.”

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