Hope for the Holidays

Nov. 28 – Dec. 4, 02
Hope for the Holidays
By Karen Kukla/ SUN contributing writer

Local organization helps those touched by loss of a loved one during a hectic holiday season.

Therese Schoeneck knows that sometimes the saddest holiday story can have a happy ending. She remembers the six months after her daughter died. Schoeneck, founder and executive director of Hope for Bereaved, drove to the cemetery where she found the entrance blocked by snow and was overcome by emotion.

“I just pounded my fist on the steering wheel and in frustration, shouted ‘I want something good to come out of this. Otherwise my daughter will have died in vain,’” she said. Ten months later, on Dec. 4, 1978, Schoeneck hosted an informal meeting to help other bereaved parents cope with the pending holiday. This December marks the 25th year since that first meeting, heralding the start of a quarter century of the organization’s work with the bereaved.

“Never did I imagine this,” said Schoeneck. “When we held that first panel it was to help people, and whenever we saw a need, we filled it.” And although she still mourns the loss of her daughter, she finds comfort in the fact that something positive has come from the tragedy.

Hope for Bereaved started under the umbrella of the Syracuse Diocese where Schoeneck was employed at the time her daughter was killed. Today, Hope for Bereaved operates as a separate entity located in the Rosamond Gifford Center of HOPE, located on Onondaga Boulevard in Syracuse. The organization has four full-time employees. More than 250 volunteers are a vital part of the center’s success, helping thousands of people each year, said Schoeneck.

Hope for Bereaved unofficially began its year-long 25th anniversary recognition on Sunday, Nov. 24 with a “Coping with the Holidays” workshop. The program was held at St. Joseph the Worker Church, at 1001 Tulip St. in Liverpool.

According to Schoeneck, this year’s “Coping With the Holidays” workshop held a special sentiment for the organization. “When we were considering whether to offer ‘Coping With the Holidays’ this year, we realized that is where this organization got its start,” she said. With all of the emphasis on family, holidays can be especially difficult for one who is mourning. Everyday things, like the empty chair at the holiday table or finding the perfect Christmas gift, become constant reminders that life has changed.

Holidays can be just as hard on children. Since children find comfort in familiarity, the death of a loved one can trigger uncertainty and stress. If the parents themselves are grieving, the grief of a child can easily go unnoticed.

Schoeneck’s daughter, Margie Nye, still remembers the first Christmas after her older sister died. She relished the idea of the approaching holiday yet at the same time dreaded the upcoming season, knowing that her family would never be the same. Nye, who now volunteers as a youth group facilitator with Hope for Bereaved, said that it’s important to remember that children grieve differently. A child may be sad one minute and a short while later, anticipating the coming holiday.

Nye’s family incorporated some new traditions into the holiday after her sister’s death. The different routine helped them survive the holiday season. Activities like taking turns hanging her sister’s ornaments on the tree and volunteering at a local soup kitchen on Christmas Day helped to diminish the pain. For adults, Hope for Bereaved offers several suggestions that can help individuals survive the holiday season. There is no “right or wrong” way to act, Schoeneck said, adding, “We always encourage people to remember that if they don’t stay with a tradition for a year, they can always go back.” Some suggestions include the following:

— Shop by catalog or telephone. Shop with a friend or ask someone to shop for you. Donate to a worthy cause or give gift certificates.
— Take care of yourself and do what is most helpful and important to you. Get adequate rest, eat well, exercise, pray, read and relax.
— Consider cutting back on baking, decorating, cleaning and cards and look at alternatives. Buy baked goods or do without. Use fewer decorations or ask other family members or friends to decorate. Top clean instead of scrubbing and consider not sending cards.
— Keep yourself busy by fixing a big meal or go to another person’s home for dinner. Serving buffet style or eating in a different room may also help.
— Attend a religious service held at a different time or place. Turn to your faith and try to concentrate on the meaning of the season.
— Don’t push down tears. Build in time to grieve. Keep a journal.
— Ask for and accept offered help. Share your concerns and feelings with an understanding friend. Plan special times with people with whom you are comfortable.
— Keep expectations of yourself and the holidays realistic.
— Take it hour by hour. When possible, have fun. It’s good to laugh.
— Hold on to hope. Your grief will soften and your loved one will always be a special part of your life and holidays.

Hope for Bereaved will start the actual 25th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, Dec. 3 with a reception and open house to commemorate a quarter century of helping the bereaved. The event will be held from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Rosamond Gifford Center of Hope. The organization is also looking for former participants, volunteers and staff who have a story to share. The center plans to include stories, memorabilia and photos in newsletters throughout the year. For more information about Hope for Bereaved or upcoming activities or workshops, call (315) 475-9675 (HOPE) or e-mail HOPE@dreamscape.com.

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