Having a blue Christmas? Take time to grieve and understand what you need, says psychologist

·3 min read
Epitacia Bruce came to Labrador in 1965 as a teacher. She's the first Filipina recorded in Labrador. She died this year at age 87. (Submitted by Katherine Achacoso - image credit)
Epitacia Bruce came to Labrador in 1965 as a teacher. She's the first Filipina recorded in Labrador. She died this year at age 87. (Submitted by Katherine Achacoso - image credit)

Not everyone will be singing carols and decking the halls this Christmas and that's okay, says one psychologist.

Janine Hubbard, president of the Association of Psychology Newfoundland and Labrador, says if loved ones have died this year or in previous years, the holidays — which typically include rituals and family time — can cause more intense feelings of loss.

"Remember that there is no right way or wrong way to grieve," Hubbard said. "This is a very individual process for everyone."

If people choose to share memories or decide to have a muted festivity, everyone is entitled to how they are feeling and needing to grieve, Hubbard said. In time though, Hubbard said there are ways to encourage those whose loved ones have died into celebrating traditions once again.

"I have a Christmas baking tradition that still reminds me of Christmas Eve at my grandmother's house every year," Hubbard said. "Those are the ways that we're able to find some of those rituals, those traditions, so that our loved ones continue on with us in some fun ways."

Submitted by Katherine Achacoso
Submitted by Katherine Achacoso

It's going to be a different Christmas, say the family of Epitacia Bruce, commonly known as "Auntie Pitt." Bruce was the first Filipina recorded coming to Labrador. She arrived in 1965 and taught throughout the central Labrador region.

Bruce died on Nov. 15.

Salve Achacoso said her sister was her confidant and like a second mother to her, as Achacoso was the youngest of her 15-member family. When Achacoso began having her own children, Bruce took on a grandmother role.

"She is that great aunt that has a big heart that's enough for everybody in the family," Achacoso said.

Submitted by Katherine Achacoso
Submitted by Katherine Achacoso

Maricar Matugas-Ballantyne said her aunt was larger than life, with a smile and kind words for everyone. Now the family is preparing to head into the holidays without Bruce, as well as one of Achacoso's other siblings and her husband, who died this fall, adding to the family's grief.

"It's very painful," Achacoso said. "Knowing that I need to be strong for the family, I need to be able to show to them that strength has its merit in that there will always be struggles in life, but you need to keep your head above it."

Matugas-Ballantyne agreed, saying it's difficult to get into the Christmas spirit but it's given her a chance to reflect and learn.

"Time with loved ones is very precious and it's not eternal," Matugas-Ballantyne said. "We need to make sure we tell our loved ones that we love them because you never know when the last time you'll be able to see them."

Don't force holiday spirit

Hubbard cautions against forcing yourself into the Christmas spirit, and says practicing self-kindness is key during the holiday season.

Understanding that emotions can be unpredictable, she suggests, may help ease the burden.

Meghan McCabe/CBC
Meghan McCabe/CBC

For those supporting someone enduring the aftermath of a death, it's essential to check in on them, she said.

"It's always a good idea, anyone, whether they've lost someone or they're just alone during the holiday season to reach out," Hubbard said.

As the holidays approach, Matugas-Ballantyne and Achacoso hope people remember their sister and aunt as a happy person who was always there for others when needed, had a big heart and wanted to get the most out of every moment.

"I would hope that I could be like her in terms of living life to the fullest without regret," Matugas-Ballantyne said.

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