Self care key to coping during holidays

Special to The Herald

With the tricks-or-treats of Halloween well behind us, you might have thought we were safe. But we now find ourselves in the middle of the trickiest season of all.

This is the time of year when many of us think we have to cook like caterers and bake like pastry chefs.

When we try to turn our homes, inside and out, into winter wonderlands with bright lights, greenery and umpteen yuletide knickknacks.

When we strive to buy the perfect gifts for people who, let’s face it, already have everything they could possibly want.

Making it to, and through, family gatherings is another challenge, made even more difficult when a loved one who was present as recently as a year ago is heartbreakingly absent.

We do the best we can, and hope we do no worse than shedding some tears along the way.

I cannot promise no weeping, but I can offer suggestions for, I hope, lessening it.

Let’s start with how to deal with loss at this time of year. First, according to Heather Terwiske, MSW, LCSW, clinical supervisor of psychiatric social work and on-call services at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper, it is important to remember the person. Especially if the loss is new, it’s OK to set a place setting for the loved one at the holiday table, she said, and definitely incorporate memories of him or her into your Christmas and Thanksgiving traditions.

For some people, “talking about (the loved one who has passed), it just makes it okay,” Terwiske said. “I think the biggest thing is not trying to overlook that they’re not there.”

There likely are as many ideas for incorporating passed loved ones into holiday customs as there are passed loved ones. I am somewhat crafty, and a few weeks ago an acquaintance asked me to turn her mother-in-law’s sweaters into evergreens on handmade Christmas cards. Another woman I know makes her grandmother’s corn pudding every Christmas.

Just before Thanksgiving every year, my co-worker Linda Brosmer joins her elder daughter to prepare a megabatch of their grandmother’s/great-grandmother’s dressing. Linda and daughter Laura Roettger, both of Jasper, inevitably share stories of the matriarch — Luetta Bickel, who died in 2005 — as they go about their work.

Linda explained that after Luetta stopped making the dressing, Linda’s mom — Carol Dodge — would make it, and Linda would help. When Laura set up her own household, the tradition dropped down another generation. Carol now resides in a nursing home, so Linda and Laura wrap warm memories of her into their task, too.

The Brosmers also make another of Luetta’s dishes from days gone by. Linda, 56, remembers being as young as 5 and making Ethel Fruit Salad with her grandmother, and they continued to add and stir and taste side by side in the kitchen for many years. “She would visit when I got my household going. She loved that. … A lot of Thanksgivings she would spend at my house here.”

Today, “Thanksgiving can’t be had unless Ethel Fruit Salad is a part of it,” Linda said, laughing as she realized she is completely unable to explain who Ethel is or why the salad has that name.

When it comes to keeping decorating, cookie-baking and the number of seasonal commitments I have this month in check, Terwiske recommended prioritizing. She suggested making two lists: Things I Have to Do and Things I Want to Do. Knowing how a woman’s mind works, she added: “And be truthful when you’re doing that. Do you have to make 10 pies, or do you have to make a dessert?”

I asked if there might not be a third category: Really, Really Want to Do. She let me have it.

“You get through the Have To’s. You get through the Really, Really Want To’s. Maybe you’ll get through a third of the Want To’s,” she said. And when that happens, she added, I shouldn’t feel guilty, or let anyone else try to make me feel that way.

“Give yourself permission to take care of yourself,” she said, talking to females everywhere. Women, particularly, often feel they can’t say no — and that can be even harder around the holidays. But if a task is not a Have To or a Want To, why spend precious time doing it?

Terwiske stressed: “Don’t feel guilty about making yourself a priority: You’ve got to take care of yourself so you can take care of other people.”

She also pointed out that “with so many blended families and stepfamilies, sometimes people have five, six Christmas (get-togethers) to go to. How do you do that? It’s important to give yourself permission to not do something.”

If stress and overwhelm start to creep in, you (and those around you) are likely to detect some of its symptoms, which include irritability, a short temper, tiredness, sleeping too much or too little, and stomach troubles.

To avoid that, Terwiske — who had to delay our interview because of a call to the Emergency Room and whose home life includes being the mother of two young children and the wife of a basketball coach — “will just take a day to myself” this time of year to do something she enjoys. She might spend the day reading. Or shopping. She ignores her phone, including texts.

Uh, she just mentioned shopping. This is a column about avoiding Christmas-related stress, so I had to ask about buying and gift-giving — and overbuying and overgiving.

Please, she urged, “don’t break the bank” with Christmas shopping. Just as prioritizing can help determine which holiday activities to do and which to skip, the shopping lists come down to Needs vs. Wants; when buying for your children, include some of each.

With younger children — hers are ages 5 and 3 — she suggests emphasizing fun experiences throughout the season and de-emphasizing presents. Her 3-year-old daughter enjoyed helping to put ornaments on the tree this year, and having the children help decorate cookies is another activity she has her eye on. Taking photos of the activity and telling extended family members, such as grandparents, about it can help make the experience even more memorable.

Other no-cost or low-cost seasonal activities that youngsters might enjoy include riding around to see Christmas lights, having an indoor picnic by the Christmas tree, picking out a toy to donate to charity, eating supper by candlelight, dancing to Christmas music and going Christmas caroling to neighbors’ homes.

A friend told me that it’s not just preschoolers who prefer experiences over stuff. Her teenage grandchildren “want time more than trinkets,” she said, so they incorporate cookie-making, movies and museum visits into this time of year.

Here are some other ideas friends shared when I asked how they keep the Christmas spirit but lighten their loads:

If you can afford to hire your decorating done and your food catered, do so.

If you recognize someone is struggling financially or emotionally and are in a position to help, help.

Do something for others, such as drive someone to an appointment, offer to watch children so the adults can have a date night or run errands, share a movie night with someone who wants to get out, have a game night to spend time with friends.

Skip the big meals. A co-worker and her family have pizza on Christmas Eve and cheese and crackers while opening gifts Christmas evening.

Instead of making lots of cookies and candy, my cousin’s family makes a simple cake and puts a candle on it. Everyone sings Happy Birthday to Jesus, and the grandchildren blow out the candle.

Another friend’s family donates to charity instead of exchanging gifts.

And remember those five or six gatherings Terwiske referenced that some people feel obligated to on Christmas Day? Many religious services take place that day — but beyond that, not every Christmas get-together has to take place Dec. 25.


Mental Health First Aid

The Dubois County Public Health Partnership has scheduled Mental Health First Aid training as well as Youth Mental Health First Aid training. Both courses are for adults and teach how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health or challenge.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is set for Jan. 16.

Mental Health First Aid is scheduled for Feb. 20 and April 10.

The trainings run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The classes are held in the Memorial Hospital Medical Arts Conference Room, at 721 W. 13th St., Jasper.

The cost of the eight-hour training is $35 per person. The money is reinvested in the program to pay for the manuals participants receive, other supplies and instructor training.

To register, visit and follow the link to the registration box. For more information, email or call Dubois County Health Department Administrative Director Jo Ann Spaulding at 812-481-7050.


Martha Rasche is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee and the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. With funding from the health partnership, she writes about topics related to mental health. Read her blogs at Email her at


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