Brenda’s father unexpectedly died of heart attack a few days after Thanksgiving last year. It barely felt like Christmas happened last year. The funeral replaced decorating. Each family gathering seemed more like a memorial service than a celebration. Caring for mom filled the time that would have been devoted to gift wrapping and holiday parties.

A sense of emotional normalcy didn’t set in until around March. In January, she finally got a break from being the first born who cares for everyone else in a crisis to begin processing her own sense of loss. February was still cold, dark, and hard. Winter months have always been a time when Brenda struggled with a low-grade depression. In March, the sadness of her grief and depression began to lift with the warming temperatures and opportunities to do the things she enjoyed.

The rest of the year was filled with some hard grief moments. Her father’s birthday in May was a hard time. The family vacation, which her parents and siblings took together was hard-but-good. “The first vacation without dad” loomed over the time, but each family member had progressed enough in their grief that conversations could focus on endearing qualities about dad, treasuring sweet memories, and laughter was sprinkled amongst the tears. Everyone left feeling like it had been a healing time.

The rest of the Summer and Fall was normal. The start of hunting and football season made everyone think of dad again, but it was more like the endearing reminiscence at the beach. Routines were pretty “normal,” and Brenda’s emotions seems to rise and fall proportionally with the events of the day until early November. That’s when the world started to turn gray again.

Brenda couldn’t put her finger on why. As the days got shorter and the weather got colder, her emotions became more constricted. By mid-November she started to brace for Thanksgiving. She knew this would be hard for her and family. While intensely sad, the family gathering around Thanksgiving went better than she expected. The family had learned how to talk about their sadness, care for one another, and affirm the good memories that flooded every part of their family traditions. They were good to one another and for one another in their grief.

But the “grief bump” of Thanksgiving took Brenda’s growing depression down another couple of levels. Her women’s Bible study group, which she really enjoyed, took a break for December because they knew how busy everyone would be. She was busy. She had a half dozen Christmas parties to attend. It was work to figure out what to talk about that wouldn’t make her sadness unduly contagious and ruin these events for others. The more energy she had to put into her social engagements, the less emotional energy she had to grapple with her growing depression when there was nothing to distract her.

At this point her normal mild Winter depression was getting severe. She began to cry for no reason, although she would tell anyone who noticed (including her husband) that it was because she was missing her father. That satisfied them, but it didn’t feel like what was going on inside of her; at least, not all of it. But since she didn’t have another explanation and it got her out of conversations she didn’t want to have, she went with it.

By mid-December Brenda was struggling to stay focused on daily tasks and feel anything around her family. She knew she loved her family and that they loved her. But she couldn’t feel anything from them or towards them. That is what startled her enough that she reached out to you. She said she was in a “dark, bad place” and wanted your help to think through what she ought to do to get out of it. You set a time to meet and begin to think through what might be helpful.

Case Study Discussion

This case study was written to set up the presentation for the free webinar Case Study: Facing Grief and Depression During the Holiday and Winter Season.” The webinar will be Thursday December 17th at 1pm EST. My goal in this twice-monthly series of free webinars is to teach one primary counseling concept or skill each month and then provide a case study that allows participants to become more proficient at utilizing that skill or concept.

These are great events for:

  • Pastors, chaplains, and ministry leaders looking to enhance their pastoral care skills
  • Counselors wanting CEU credits to help them learn more about the intersection of their faith and practice
  • Leaders in church-based counseling ministries looking to grow in their case wisdom
  • Undergraduate students looking to discern a calling to vocational ministry or a career as a professional counselor
  • Friends and small group leaders committed to walking faithfully alongside their peers in tough times

Note: If you want to participate in many or most of the webinars in this series, when you RSVP click “auto subscribe to all future webinars,” so you don’t have to keep up with registering for each event.