COLUMBIA CITY — The holiday season might be full of family meals and festivities, but how can families cope when they look around the dinner table and notice a chair is left empty?
Sharon Brockhaus is a grief facilitator and certified funeral celebrant with DeMoney-Grimes Funeral Home, Columbia City, and the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends, an organization devoted to helping others work through the loss of a loved one. For the past seven years, Brockhaus has served grieving families. The need to serve came after the loss of her son, Justin.
At 27, Justin died unexpectedly of a heart attack, the day before Thanksgiving in 2001. Brockhaus said that Thanksgiving Day she was making funeral arrangements.
“I felt like I had to make something out of this tragedy and I wanted to help people work through their loss,” Brockhaus said. “Helping others through their loss helps me heal as well.”
She said, “Because holidays are all about family, the loss of a loved one seems to be amplified.” But those emotions don’t have to keep people from enjoying the holiday season. In fact, Brockhaus encourages families to use the holidays as a reason to remember those lost and honor their memory.
“It is important to incorporate that person’s memory in the holiday season instead of not talking about it. That just makes it awkward and more difficult,” said Brockhaus. “Those we have lost are still significant and we should find ways to keep them a part of the family”
Some practical ideas Brockhaus offers include such things as lighting a special candle at a designated time in memory of that loved one. When Brockhaus lost her son 11 years ago, she bought beer steins with eagles on them and now, the family toasts to her son’s memory every year.
“There is one family member that says the toast is her favorite part of the holidays,” said Brockhaus. “The best thing for someone grieving is to hear that departed loved one’s name. So there is no need to ignore the fact that there is a someone gone.”
Many times, those left behind want to share memories of that loved one. Swapping stories and laughing at the fun times spent together is part of the grieving process, suggested Brockhaus.
“The one grieving may have to step up to the plate and be the first to start talking about that loved one,” said Brockhaus. “Others are so sensitive to the family they might be hesitant to talk about them. For those dealing with loss, don’t assume that no one wants to talk, just know others aren’t so sure how to start the conversation.”
Brockhaus said one of her favorite sayings is, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” She went on to say “Just because my son is gone, that doesn’t mean I am not his mother anymore. That relationship has changed, but it still exists.”
For younger family members, Brockhaus said children need a chance to deal with their emotions just as much as adults. According to Brockhaus, one of the keys to helping young children understand the loss of a loved one is to be honest with them.
“It’s a good idea to get kids to sit down and do a project or craft in honor of that loved one,” Brockhaus said. “Those drawings, ornaments or projects can be delivered to the cemetery or placed next to the urn.”
The local chapter of The Compassionate Friends was formed in Columbia City by Ben and Betsy Gates. The group allows those grieving to join hands and hearts in a manner that is safe and supportive.
The Compassionate Friends meets on a monthly basis and also offers Holiday Help Workshops aimed specifically at loss during the holiday season.
A special group designed for grieving parents is held the first Thursday of the month. Grief support groups are held for children ages two through 12, five times a year. Brockhaus also offers one-on-one sessions.
Brockhaus said, “Those grieving the loss of loved ones need to know they are not alone. Feeling that sense of loss and depression is natural. But we are here. We understand what they are going through.”
For 21 years, DeMoney-Grimes Funeral Home has held a special service to memorialize those lost. This year’s service will be held Dec. 1 from 1 to 4 p.m. There will be music, speaking, sharing and each person will receive an ornament to mark the memory of their lost loved one.
Brockhaus said the afternoon is open to anyone and not just limited to those who have held funerals at DeMoney-Grimes. There is no charge for the service, the support groups offered each month or for the Holiday Helps Workshop. For the annual remembrance service, all that is necessary is a reservation. DeMoney-Grimes Funeral Home asks that a phone call is made to place the loved one to be remembered on a list to be read during the service.
For more information on The Compassionate Friends, visit www.compassionatefriends.com .