Palmetto church offers support for 'Surviving the Holidays'

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 8, 2012 

PALMETTO -- A popular Christmas song tells us there's no place like home for the holidays.

But what happens to that home and the holiday when a loved one dies? Often the sense of home is gone, taking the joy of the holiday with it.

Getting through the holidays and maybe even finding a ray of joy after a loss is what a free, one-day program called "Surviving the Holidays" is all about.

A grief and recovery seminar, "Surviving the Holidays" is being offered by Palmetto Presbyterian Church, 1115 10th Ave. W., from 10 a.m. to noon today.

"We are inviting anyone in the public who has lost a loved one and is dreading the holiday to come and share with others who are going through the same thing," said the event's facilitator, the Rev. John Foulkrod.

Foulkrod is not only an experienced counselor who has ministered to people since 1976, but the 64-year-old is also a fellow in grief.

Foulkrod's father-in-law, John

Hess, died in June at age 93. Since Foulkrod's own father died 34 years ago, Hess has been his father figure for many years and his absence will be keenly felt this Christmas, Foulkrod said.

"I think of his wonderful singing voice, especially with Christmas carols," Foulkrod said of Hess. "Christmas Day was my in-laws' wedding anniversary. This year would have been their 69th. He always looked to somehow embrace love in a situation. We had lots of times of laughter. He, too, was a minister."

Soon after people arrive at today's seminar, they will see a video produced by Grief Share, a nonprofit group. In the video, people who have lost loved ones like Foulkrod share what they have gone through and what got them through.

"This is the most difficult time during the year for people who have lost loved ones," Foulkrod said. "But we can remember that we wouldn't feel pain during the holidays if there weren't people we have loved. Sometimes realizing that can also lead us into some feelings of tremendous gratitude."

Other helpful hints for coping with holiday blues that emerge from the video are to remember the good times, don't deny what happened but keep it from being all consuming, realize that some pain is part of the healing process and don't fear it, talk to others, and don't feel guilty to laugh again, Foulkrod said.

"The video will teach that talking about things is almost always helpful and withdrawing and isolating is almost always not helpful," Foulkrod said.

After the video, there will be an opportunity for discussion, but it is not required, Foulkrod said.

"This is our first year doing this," the pastor said. "Our intention at the church is to reach out to people who are grieving. In late January or early February, we will also offer a weekly grief support group."

Foulkrod will tell the group that it is OK to enjoy the holiday, although many feel guilt. It is OK to begin to rebuild the four cold walls that home has become back into a home, he said. It is OK to do all this while still feeling pain.

"I think part of what you do to recreate the home is to change things," said Karen Cooper, who is not only the church secretary but who has been taking grief courses over the last 13 weeks in another program offered by the church called "Your Journey From Mourning to Joy."

"You have to create new traditions, new ideas and kind of get through a year or two," Cooper added.

Twenty years ago, Cooper's husband died unexpectedly.

She survived with "good friends who wrapped their arms around us," but one of the things she and her friends did was to travel at Christmas.

"The main thing is not sitting home," Cooper said. "Reach out. Call friends. Go to church. Anything to keep you from being isolated."

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