Although certain sights and smells any time of year can trigger Rose Rodriques grief for her father, during the holidays and special occasions her feelings become especially intense.

        “You get reminded,” the Toronto woman, whose father died two years ago, said. “Sometimes you get busy and do things, but then there are people in the family that are feeling the same way you are. So you really can’t put it on the backburner and pretend it’s not happening.”

        Feeling the loss of a loved one during special occasions can be so painful that holiday time becomes nothing more than a matter of survival, said Stephen Fleming. Psychologist in private practice in Brampton, Ont. And a professor at Toronto’s York University.

        The prolonged Christmas season, lasting from the beginning of November to the beginning of January can be especially difficult for those who are bereaved.

        Still, they can help themselves then or during any special time, by planning ahead, Dr. Fleming said.

        “Avoid the should’s and do what’s best for you,” he said. That could mean by continuing to get together with family at the holiday time, raising a few eyebrows by going away on your own, or by staying at home with the phone unplugged. In any case, Dr. Fleming suggests making your plans reversible in the event things do not go as expected. This could mean, for example, leaving the family celebration, returning home from being away, or plugging the phone back in and joining the family.

        However, he cautioned, families with young children would be well advised not to cancel occasions such as Christmas altogether, but to carry on, but in a way that acknowledges the life of the deceased.

        Those who are bereaved can also develop a “meaningful ritual,” he added, perhaps by spending time at the gravesite, or making a donation to a charity in the name of the deceased.

        Taking care of yourself becomes especially important during those stressful periods, said Allyson Whiteman, a counselor at the Victoria Hospice in B.C., perhaps by having a massage, going for a walk, or getting lots of rest. And, she suggests including children in Christmas decision-making.

        Many funeral homes across Canada hold services for the bereaved at Christmas. Yewchin’s Funeral Chapel in St. Paul, Alta., among them, is now planning its 12th.

        Approximately eight hundred people were at last years. “There’s just a great sense of strength and comfort that comes from bringing people together for this,” said Caroline Yewchin, the chapel’s owner and funeral director.

        Said Suzanne Scott, executor director of the Funeral Service Association of Canada. “Such services are typical of what many funeral homes offer to families.” Others include bereavement support groups, libraries and information pamphlets.

        When holiday time arrives for Ms. Rodriques, a place is set for her father in his old spot at the head of the table. “He’s not visually there, but he’s still there kind of….and you can still see him there in your heart and in your mind.”


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