The holidays are hard for Kathy Siebrasse.
Her son, Mike, committed suicide in 2001. In February 2009, her husband, Chuck, lost his battle with cancer. In 2010, she lost her father to Alzheimer’s disease.
“The holidays will never be the same for me, but I have found ways to honor and remember all of them that help,” Siebrasse said in an email. “Suicide Prevention Services lights luminaria at the holidays in front of its Batavia office, and I donate to that in order to have Mike remembered and Chuck honored.”
A time when so many seem jolly, the holidays can remind others of seats that will forever be empty at family dinners. They can heighten financial and time stresses or add to friction among family, co-workers and friends. They can deepen depression.
Local religious and service organization leaders suggest techniques to lighten the holiday blues.
Volunteering is a great way to reduce holiday-related stress, said Fran Tierney, manager of special programs at the Ben Gordon Center. However, she recommended knowing one’s limit and not becoming overinvolved.
Tierney said stress can come from trying to attend every holiday event a person is invited to, which can lead to anxiety at what’s supposed to be a fun occasion.
“You might not be able to go to everything you’re invited,” Tierney said. “It’s about being able to manage what you’re being asked to do.”
A lot of people hide their depressed feelings, which is something the Rev. Robert Weinhold of Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John’s recently experienced. Weinhold said he organized a six-week support/education class for dealing with holiday-related depression. No one showed up.
Weinhold said people need to look past the material objects of Christmas – the presents, the parties, the music – and embrace its real meaning. Even if they feel like they’re alone, they’re not.
“There is love no matter what has happened in our life,” Weinhold said. “God does still care. That’s what Jesus and that’s what Christmas is about.”
Dan Klein, a social worker with the Family Service Agency, said a person can tell whether a loved one is experiencing depression during the holiday season. He said there will be noticeable changes such as a person’s tone of voice or attention. People also might not be excited for things they normally like to do.
New traditions can help. Both Tierney and Klein recognize the importance of old traditions, but establishing new ones can alleviate holiday-related depression. Sue Rankin, a bereavement coordinator for the DeKalb County Hospice, said no one is obligated to follow through with a tradition, old or new.
“What you do this year, you don’t have to do every year thereafter,” Rankin said. “We always have the choice every holiday season in what we take part in and what we don’t.”
Siebrasse also spoke of the importance of new holiday traditions. She said she volunteers a lot during the holidays as a way to stay positive. Since her son’s death, family members would each write a special note to Mike and put it in his stocking.
“That way, he was still a part of our Christmas,” Siebrasse said.
• Feeling down this holiday season? Here are some resources that can help:
• Family Service Agency: 815-758-8616
• Ben Gordon Center (regular hours): 815-756-4875
• 24-hour crisis center hotline at the Ben Gordon Center: 1-866-242-0111
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
• The Ben Gordon Center has an online mental health screening tool at www.bengordoncenter.org
• People can also reach out to local religious entities for help.