WATERVILLE — While the holidays are a happy time for many people, they can be difficult for those who have lost a loved one.

This time of year, everyone is expected to be happy and cheerful, but that isn’t always the case for those who have lost a loved one either recently or in the more distant past, according to Susan Roy, executive director of Hospice Volunteers of the Waterville Area.

Traditions, including decorating or sharing a special meal, can feel as though they are missing something, said Roy.

“You’re thinking, ‘Well, who’s going to do it this year?’ and a lot of people just don’t have the energy to decorate or do anything for the holiday at all,” said Roy.

Watching people who are thankful and celebrating can make someone who is sad or lonely feel overwhelmed, she said.

For the last three years, the hospice volunteers have organized a group, Grief Through the Holidays, that offers support for those who are grieving between Thanksgiving and into January. Mark Jose and Lucie Boucher are leading the group this year.

“There’s a lot of focus particularly during the Christmas season, on families being together, joy and what a wonderful time it is. I think that can make people who are going through a loss more aware of their own pain,” said Jose, 64, who is a bereavement councilor for MaineGeneral Medical Center.

Deb Letourneau, 51, of North Vassalboro, knows firsthand what grieving through the holidays can be like. An administrative assistant at the Hospice Volunteers, she found the organization and eventually her job after attending the grief session two years ago.

In 2008, Letourneau’s 28-year-old daughter, Krysta Bearor, was struck by lightning and killed just weeks after she was married.

“A storm came up and my grandkids were out playing. She got them in the house, but the dog had taken my grandson’s glasses. She went to find them and lightning struck,” said Letourneau. The accident happened just two weeks after Bearor’s marriage and also killed Tony Clarke, a family friend and the best man in Bearor’s wedding, said Letourneau.

“Christmas, birthdays, her wedding anniversary. There’s always some sort of trigger with any holiday because there’s a gap in that family circle,” Letourneau said.

She said she’s always enjoyed Christmas, but since her daughter’s death it has been stressful. Shopping for gifts reminds her she won’t be getting anything for her oldest daughter, she said. She doesn’t decorate as much as she used to, but she tries more every year to be thankful for what she has and enjoy the company of loved ones, she said.

Letourneau found the hospice group after the accident, and it has helped her find coping mechanisms, she said.

Happy memories of her daughter and enjoying the loved ones who remain – her husband, other children, grandchildren and friends – have helped her get through the grieving process, she said.

“If you start talking to people, you’ll find that many people are dealing with feelings of loss during the holidays,” said Jose, adding that for most people, the most important coping mechanism is having someone they can talk to about how they’re feeling and whom they’re missing.

There are many paths through grief, and everyone has their own methods of coping; but exercise, eating well and resting are important for everyone, said Jose.

Planning how to get through the holidays ahead of time and communicating it to family and friends is also recommended, said Jose.

“If you don’t want to go the family party, say that. If the family has strong feelings about it, maybe you can compromise and just go for a half-hour. For many people, it is hard to figure out what you need and communicate that,” said Jose.

Coping also applies to other forms of grief aside from losing a loved one, including divorce or a move that separates families, said Jose.

This year’s grief group is closed to new members because the eight-week session has already started, but the Hospice Volunteers of Waterville as well as Somerset Hospice Volunteers and MaineGeneral Hospice Volunteers of the Kennebec Valley have workshops and get-togethers throughout the year, Jose said.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:r

ohm@centralmaine.com