Surviving holiday grief

WASHINGTON —For Ami Neiberger-Miller, Christmas is bittersweet. It was the last time she saw her brother, 22-year-old Army Spc. Christopher Neiberger, before he was killed in action in Iraq on Aug. 6, 2007.

“The first year after my brother died was the hardest holiday,” Neiberger-Miller said. “It seemed like many of our traditions just caused a lot of pain.”

How do you make it through the holidays when everyone is expected to be merry, but you are dealing with a pain that can be overwhelming?

Neiberger-Miller worked with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and has helped other military families deal with the grief of losing a loved one.

“The holidays can be really difficult for people who are grieving,” she said. “It seems like a lot of people around you are happy. But your emotions and feelings don’t always feel that way.”

She said the holidays can be an emotional minefield for those who are in mourning, and she reminded people dealing with loss to remember that there is no time limit on the grieving process.

Neiberger-Miller said those who have lost loved ones should allow themselves to feel both the joy and the sadness that the season may bring. She said that it takes five to seven years for a grieving family to have what’s called a “new normal.”

She said those who are grieving should not be afraid to get rid of or change holiday traditions that bring pain.

“We had a set of stockings that we had since we were children,” she said. “Getting those out and hanging those up, knowing that my brother was gone, that was really hard for us.”

So those Christmas stockings were put away in a box.

She said it was not until she had her own daughter, who is now 6-years old, that they bought new Christmas stockings so that her daughter can have fond Christmas memories.

“For someone who is grieving at the holidays, I would encourage you to still try to do a few things, if you can,” Neiberger-Miller said. “But be aware of yourself. Have a plan if you need some time to yourself or you need to leave an event early that you are able to do that.”

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