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The Head, the Heart, and the Holidays: Dealing with grief and loneliness

So many people will feel extra alone this holiday season, but there is comfort.

CLEVELAND — Tom Maier found joy in every part of life: his job, his kids, and Cleveland sports, no matter the season outcome. But there was nothing he loved as much as his wife Billie.

His college sweetheart, his travel buddy, and the mother of their two sons. After 50-plus Christmases together, Tom won't be there this year.

"Losing your spouse is like losing half of yourself," Billie says.

Tom passed away from a second battle with melanoma in September. His fight was made harder by the pandemic, as he and Billie traveled from South Carolina back to Ohio for treatment, even buying a condo in Westlake to stay at for extended treatments.

Credit: Billie Maier
Billie and Tom Maier

But his absence is now harder on Billie than any treatment challenges. She is one of many spending the holidays alone, trying to navigate grief.

This year, the U.S. has lost 300,000 people to COVID-19. That means there are a guaranteed 300,000-plus people grieving their loved ones, too.

"I think knowing there's times when I'm going to fall apart, but come back," Billie told us. "It's like waves."

Billie says one of the hardest things about her grief is not having time to feel it all, because of the weight of this world. However, she's doing what she can.

"I'm trying to do things the way Tom would want me to do them, in some instances," she said. "Other times, like, I got a whole new Christmas tree. I'm decorating different just to have something to do."

Her best advice to others feeling alone this holiday season is to put yourself first.

"I'm not a person who always puts myself first, but I think in this case, you have to," she said. "People understand when you say, 'I can't do it today.'"

Life coach Patty DeJohn of DeJohn Funeral Homes says the kind of grief Billie is experiencing is shared by millions right now. Any "normal" sadness we're feeling is overshadowed by the pandemic and the work it takes to manage everything.

"There's always this saying about grieving people like 'No one knows what I'm going through,' she explained. "But when the pandemic hit, it's like the world really gets it now."

DeJohn's advice for anyone struggling to grieve this holiday season or feeling alone is to let it all out. Do not bottle things up, as your sadness will only grow.

Here are three specific things you can do to cope:

1. Simplify things

If you are struggling, find things or people that do make you happy or bring you comfort, and focus on those things. 

2. Write it out

DeJohn says journaling is a great tool for many. You can write out your feelings just to feel release, or revisit your thoughts later to reflect.

3. Remember, it's all temporary

The pandemic won't last forever. This is a temporary time of heavy grief, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

DeJohn also recommends seeing a therapist of life coach if needed. DeJohn offers sessions herself. You can learn more about her here.