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Programs, groups help to deal with loss during Christmas
Kurt Schuler knows firsthand about grief during the holidays. The Gainesville man lost his wife 5 1/2 years ago and “operated on adrenaline” the first year following her death. Schuler now is the facilitator of First Baptist Church’s GriefShare Program, which will reconvene next month. He said he discovered the best way to handle grief is interacting with others dealing with loss. - photo by CHELSEY ABERCROMBIE

Adult Support Group

When: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting Jan. 8

Where: Location available upon registration

More info:, 770-219-0275


When: 6 p.m. Wednesdays in room 209B

Where: First Baptist Church of Gainesville, 751 Green St. NW, Gainesville

More info:, 770-533-4505

It’s hard to think about the holidays as anything other than the best time of the year, but for some, particularly those who have lost a loved one, it can cause dread instead of anticipation or depression instead of joy.

Kurt Schuler, the facilitator of First Baptist Church’s GriefShare Program, knows firsthand how the family times and togetherness that many look forward to during the holidays can only make a grieving person feel worse.

“You set a table for the number of people you had for dinner last year, and now you’re setting the same table but there’s one person not sitting behind a plate,” Schuler said. “All the sudden, that realization can drive somebody into a deep depression if they’re not ready to experience it.”

When Schuler lost his wife 5« years ago to a serious illness, he was “operating on adrenaline” for the whole first year after her death. He worked a lot to prevent himself from dealing with his grief. When a pastor at First Baptist convinced him to attend a meeting of the GriefShare program, all that changed.

“I had my meltdown and realized that (working) wasn’t doing me any good,” Schuler said. “I needed some help, and I got it.”

Schuler, who now runs the program, said the group atmosphere in which participants watch DVDs about how to cope with loss — one of which specifically addresses the holidays — and then discuss with one another often helps individuals heal the most.

“The best responses and the best method of handling (grief) seem to be the interaction of the people in the group,” Schuler said.

As a counselor with Hospice of Northeast Georgia, Karla Brookreson-Owens helps grieving people of all ages and backgrounds on a daily basis. During the holidays, she reminds her patients it’s important to listen to themselves and be aware of their emotions as they navigate the busy season.

“We try to remind everyone that you can change your traditions, keep traditions, decide to change something at the last minute — that’s OK, too,” Brookreson-Owens said.

The first step of making it through the holidays is always for an individual to name and acknowledge their loss, as well as being prepared for an outpouring of support from well-meaning friends and family.

“Another thing we talk to folks about is you’ll have a lot of (people saying) ‘Let me know if I can do anything for you,’” Brookreson-Owens said. “What grieving people don’t know how to do is ask for what they need, which is maybe ‘I don’t know what I need right now, but don’t give up and keep calling me.’”

For friends or loved ones of grieving individuals, Brookreson-Owens suggests making offers of help as specific as possible.

“Family and friends can be helpful by offering suggestions and offering ‘I’m going to the store. Look in your refrigerator. See if you need milk and eggs.’” Brookreson-Owens said. “Make specific offers rather than open-ended ones, and continue to call (the grieving person).”

One thing Brookreson-Owens recommends not doing is pretending like a lost loved one was never here to begin with

“Depending on the relationship individuals have with their friends, ask about that person,” she said. “Sometimes families really appreciate friends talking about their loved one rather than pretending they never existed.”

Noting suicide rates increase in January, after grievers have ostensibly “made it through” the holidays, Brookreson-Owens also recommends a group atmosphere for anyone dealing with grief.

Heart Mender Grief Support’s Adult Support Group reconvenes Jan. 8. The group meets from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursdays. More information about the group, including its location, is available upon registering at

“Some folks are really resistant to the group idea, but it really is a group of friendly strangers,” Brookreson-Owens said. “You might have someone who doesn’t like to talk, but it’s really helpful to listen.”

FBC’s GriefShare Program, which is Christian but nondenominational, will recommence in January. For more information, visit

No matter what time of year, Schuler always relies on his faith to deal with the pain of his wife’s loss.

“I now know that (my wife is) with the Lord, in a much better place,” Schuler said. “She doesn’t have any suffering, and I really feel she is happy and leading a much better life than we are down here.”