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Helping Families Cope With Grief During The Holiday Season

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(credit: CBS) Natalie Nyhus
Natalie Nyhus joined the WCCO-TV team in January of 2011. She repor...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can be the most difficult time of the year.

“When we knew our mom wasn’t going to make it, we took a Christmas photo,” said Jacob Knuth.

Chuck Knuth has felt the wrath of cancer. He lost both parents to the disease, and now his wife Becky, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

After realizing this was a battle Becky couldn’t win, the two parents and their children, Jacob and Jeana, took a final family photo in December of 2010.

“I remember coming down on the couch, and having a family meeting with the kids, and just holding them and telling them mom’s not going to survive,” Chuck said. “That this is going to take her life. And we just cried and cried on the couch.”

Grief can show up at any moment. And it can leave just as quickly — like a wave, especially for children.

“They don’t necessarily understand what forever means,” said Jenny Simmonds. “They are very present-oriented. They aren’t able to anticipate all of the birthdays that they’re going to miss with their loved ones, and all the Christmases. So they feel that grief in those instant spurts, so it’s intense.”

Simmonds runs a program through Fairview called Youth Grief Services. They provide grief counseling for children who have lost a mom or dad, and for men and women who have lost their spouse.

It’s what the Knuth family has relied on to cope, and to grow, after losing Becky.

“To work on your grief, it takes a lot of work,” Simmonds said. “It takes a lot of courage to go through the grieving process because it’s painful and it’s hard.”

Chuck learned that through the program.

“It is OK to have the emotions to cry,” he said. “It’s OK to have the emotions, to be scared. When you connect with other people, you don’t feel so alone. And that’s really healthy because that aloneness can eat you up.”

Youth Grief Services offer two free, seven-week sessions throughout the year, plus an overnight weekend session called Camp Erin.

Jacob and Jeana Knuth attended the camp where most activities are symbolic, like smashing a tile and gluing it back together.

“You’ll heal, but the scars are always going to be there,” Jacob said.

Two years into their journey of grief and growth, the Knuths continue to honor Becky with a memory room.

“We want to hold onto the wonderful mother that she was,” Chuck said.

They do so with keepsake quilts made of Becky’s old clothing, and with a goodnight story with her voice recorded.

“She’s not coming back, but we have a strong faith, so we know that we are going to see her again,” Chuck said.

If you are heading into the holidays without a loved one, Simmonds offers some advice — maybe skip the Christmas card this year.

There are other grief services available in various communities, so check with the hospitals and churches in your town.

For more from Youth Grief Services, click here.

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