- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

It's only two weeks until Christmas, Hanukkah is here, and I'm stuck on the "less presents but more presence" note.
I hate to keep harping on it, but please make the most of the precious present of time by spending it more widely and wisely with the ones you love. Tomorrow is not promised.
We are coming upon a sad season of remembrance because of those who are no longer among the living most especially those innocent Americans who lost their lives in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Even if we didn't know a single soul who perished in the World Trade Center, the Christmas-tree and menorah-lighting ceremonies at ground zero were tearful reminders of all that we lost in this country that day. Not the least of these was our sense of security.
What of those who no longer feel safe or sane in their homes? What of children who lost parents and parents who lost children? Adults know that holidays are hard without a honey.
The first Christmas you spend without a mother or child or special sibling can send you into a tearful tizzy. The site of loving couples kissing under the mistletoe can be too painful to bear if you lost that special someone. Who wants to face that first holiday without Dad carving the turkey or Grandma slicing her pound cake?
I revisited Dawn M. Higgins, a psychotherapist specializing in "the language of loss," who has helped many folks cope with their grief after the September 11 tragedies. Those in the counseling profession, she notes, are gearing up for unusually brisk business this holiday season in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
"It's going to be a more difficult Christmas for us all," said Ms. Higgins, whose workbook "To Guide You Through Grief" was published last month.
One interesting suggestion is to find a private place to grieve. She notes that the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, named the "Grief" statue by Mark Twain, is a serene choice.
Of course, she tells people they should not be afraid to cry and cry often. And, when you see someone crying, don't offer them a tissue because it signals that you are uncomfortable and suggesting that it's time for them to pull themselves together.
It's the little ones who concern Ms. Higgins most. "I've been really concentrating a lot on the children because it's so hard for kids," she said. "What we miss out on is that we think they're resilient but they're really suffering."
Don't be fooled by young ones who are not crying or acting out, she suggests. Children tend to be quiet as they attempt to comprehend their different surroundings. So ask them how they are feeling, if they are missing Mom or Dad, tell them that you know that this must be a hard time.
The tendency for the surviving parent is to be extravagant. One of Ms. Higgins' patients, a mother with children ages 13, 10, and 8, bought lots of gifts last year. Yet it became so painful for the children to open the presents without their deceased father that they became eerily silent.
"Buying more toys just doesn't solve it," Ms. Higgins said.
Instead, the Alexandria-based therapist suggests doing something special to remember the loved one such as buying or making an ornament in their honor. In another activity, she gets young patients to decorate clay pots in the images of their deceased loved one. Then they plant paper-white narcissus bulbs in the pots, water them and watch them grow.
Ms. Higgins also suggests that bringing something green, preferably with a scent, into your home is also good medicine for grieving adults. She pointed out that the tradition of decorating evergreens started during the winter solstice to symbolize something living. The living plants brought folks out of their doldrums caused by darker, shorter days and everything outside dying all around them.
"Just the other day, a woman client told me that putting a wreath on her door made her feel better," Ms. Higgins said.
Ms. Higgins said the first year after a loved one's death is the most difficult, especially during the holidays when traditions are so strong and there is visible evidence of the loved one's absence.
For her part, Ms. Higgins said she has joined a church since the September attacks and she intends to spend the holidays attending activities at the appropriately named Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Georgetown.
Ms. Higgins said she became "envious" of the sense of community and belonging her clients seemed to experience in their church communities. She said you can gain comfort from a spiritual activity that brings you closest to nature or "whatever faith we have."
Above all, don't be afraid to talk about your loss. Things change. People change. Only love remains.
The holidays are to bring us good cheer. While we can't help missing our lost loved one, remember that you loved and were loved. Such is a rare and precious present that lasts forever.
Ms. Higgins can be reached at 703/683-0041 or through her Web site: www.languageofloss.net.

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