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Getting through the holidays after the loss

of a loved one


Cassandra Wuerstle, News Editor

Whether we think about it often or not death is a natural and common occurrence in life. Often it’s a topic left untouched among many college students, and yet Approximately 40 percent of college students will have suffered the death of a loved one in the past 2 years, as indicated by self-reports according to Holland, Currier, & Neimeyer, in a 2006 study.

Before Thanksgiving, flyers were posted around campus inviting students and faculty to an open discussion about getting through the holidays after the loss of a loved one. The event was hosted by Pastor Jean Kuebler and Nancy Dusckas and was held at the Faith Lutheran Church in Harborcreek.

The evening started with Mrs. Dusckas sharing her experience of losing her mother at a very young age. She says that she has been able to use her experiences with loss and her work as a grief counselor and funeral home director to help others work through the painful process of losing a loved one.

Mrs. Dusckas had many items to discuss, but broke them down into 5 main points: examine your expectations, simplify your celebration, do what feels comfortable, be realistic about gathering, and lastly, put faith at the heart of your holiday.

The first item--examining one's expectations--was a crucial part of the evening. It was addressed that everyone handles loss differently and understanding your own expectations and limits is essential going into the holidays. Dusckas started with stressing the importance of rest, and how it may be the most natural part of the whole process. She then went on to explain that after a loss, “you have to be gentle on yourself...it’s ok to be happy, but it’s also ok to cry.” For many, she explained the holidays may feel empty or different after the loss of a loved one. Others, however, may choose to use the holidays as a way to celebrate the life of their lost companions. The stressor was to realize that whatever way one chose to mourn it was ok, as long as you understand your expectations.

With these expectations being realized she expressed how simplifying your celebrations to meet those needs is perfectly ok, and possibly even expected from our other loved ones. This lead to the discussion of doing what makes the holidays most comfortable. As she expressed earlier in the evening, everyone handles loss differently some may need a healthy and creative outlet and decide to embrace the holiday and all the decorating and chaos that goes with it. While others may hesitate to even leave their house. While Dusckas expressed the importance of not isolating oneself, she said, “It’s ok to change things up. Perhaps instead of baking all the cookies, you pass it on to your cousins or children, let them do the work”. She also expressed that a change of venue is often a tremendous relief for many.

Dusckas’s next point, being realistic about family gatherings, was brutally honest. “Be ready for the grief to take its toll it can be overwhelming and sneak up on you,” she explained. She stressed planning ahead, knowing your limits and how much you can handle, and having a backup plan in case you get too overwhelmed and need to leave early.  She finished with a joke about laying off of the eggnog and other alcohol.

Dusckas wrapped up the evening by expressing the most important thing to take away for embracing the holidays after a close loss is to put faith and love at the heart of your celebrations.