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OC HIGH / STUDENT NEWS & VIEWS : Holidays Magnify Pain of Losing Beloved

January 13, 1994|COREY T. GRIFFIN | Corey T. Griffin is a student at Troy High School in Fullerton. This article first appeared in the student newspaper, the Oracle.

During the holidays, there is a tradition in many homes of children gathering around the dinner table to watch their fathers carve the turkey that is the centerpiece of the family meal.

But Troy High School sophomore Brooke (who wishes to remain anonymous) has not been a part of this festive scene since her father died three years ago.

Just five days after Christmas.

Coping with the death of a parent or a loved one can be a formidable and trying task, especially during the holidays when the affirmation of relationships and celebration are at a high, according to clinical psychologist Ronald Jue.

"If the memories of a deceased loved one are associated with a great deal of warmth and joy, the memories come on stronger during the holidays," Jue said. "That's why many people get despondent during the holiday season because they feel the accumulative effects of the family member not being there year after year."

While Brooke watches her older brother set up the Christmas tree, she cannot help but think of the last Christmas she watched her father perform the same task--just three years before.

"The memories of my father really come on strong this time of year because Christmas is a family holiday. There is a big sense of loss every year," Brooke said. "I miss my dad the most during Christmas mornings because my dad was the designated Santa Claus. He would sit underneath the tree and hand out the presents to us one by one. Now my mom or one of us plays Santa, but it's just not the same."

Memories of her father do not plague Brooke just around Christmas; they are a daily occurrence. Jue attributes the frequency of such memories as a means of compensation for the lack of a parent's presence in a child's life.

"My family would sit around the table and plan what we were going to do that day, while my dad was at the stove cooking eggs and frying bacon. He always made breakfast in his robe that was a light brown, almost beige, with big navy blue stripes on his sleeves and near his elbows," Brooke said. "That was my father's place during my family's Saturday morning ritual. Now when I eat eggs or bacon, it reminds me of my father."

According to Jue, the most painful memories occur when children have not expressed their feelings to their parents before they died.

"Once my father told me to come over to him, and he gave me a hug. I hugged him back," Brooke said. "I felt like saying, 'I love you,' but my father was not a very affectionate person. I thought I didn't have to tell him then because I thought I had all the time in the world. That's the memory I regret the most, because I didn't take the opportunity to tell him that I love him when it was right under my nose."

Brooke has not had to deal with the grief alone. She said therapy allowed her to release her emotions and helped her see there were many things left in her life.

"You have to work through the grief some way so you can move on with your life," Jue said. "Therapy really focuses on helping the child to integrate their experiences with death in such a way that they can positively move on in their lives."

Through therapy, Brooke has come to realize the importance of seizing every opportunity to let a loved one know exactly how she feels.

And she realizes the loss of her father is something she will feel throughout her life.

"I remember I was at my eighth-grade graduation dance and I had been having fun with my friends all night long," Brooke said. "All of a sudden, during the last dance, the deejay said, 'OK girls, dance with your dads,' and the boys had to dance with their mothers.

"I looked around and saw all of my friends with their fathers, and it just hit me all of a sudden. My father is not here. He'll never be here. He won't be able to give me away at my wedding, and he won't see me graduate from college. He won't be there for all these little things in life."

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