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On Your Mind: navigating grief and loneliness during the holiday season

"If you keep their memories alive, they’re never really gone from you."

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Reminders of the love shared and instilled by Avelino and Anita De Leon can be found just about everywhere you look at Denise Garcia's house: in photo frames, customized gifts and even on coasters.

It was in August of 2020, 3NEWS first reported on the De Leon family, after their parents, just shy of their 57th wedding anniversary, had taken their last breath at the same time. The two had passed away from COVID-19. 

"They went together." Local couple dies on the same morning after battling COVID-19"

In this holiday season, their children: Deborah, Avelino, Donna De Leon and Denise Garcia, share that even as adults the holidays are very difficult. It's a constant reminder that the heart and center of their families are no longer there. 

"We've kept the same foods and we’re trying to remember the recipes and we also have incorporated different traditions," Deborah said. "We’re trying to do things that create more traditions now that it’s just us."

The family shared they're keeping their parents' memory alive by talking about how it was growing up with them and passing on traditions to the little ones, like teaching them to make Pan de Polvo, empanadas and:

"The next thing we wanna do is tamales!" Donna said. 

The pain that comes with grief, often a testament of the love we had for someone or something. For the De Leons, they say they'll lean on tradition, happy memories, and each other.

"If you keep their memories alive, they’re never really gone from you," Avelino said. "There always here if you keep their memories alive."

"Keep your family close, try to keep those traditions alive," Deborah said, "And you have to keep going especially for the younger generation."

Being there for others:

While you don't hear about it as much in the popular songs, grief and loneliness can also be very common around the holidays.

Kristi Phillips, the Executive Director of Family Counseling Service, said her office typically does see an increase in calls leading up to Christmas-time.

"Whether it’s recent loss or loss that occurred a year ago, two years ago, 10 years ago, those things tend to bubble up during the holidays," Phillips said. "So, loneliness tends to become an issue during that time, along with if there are family members who don’t quite understand how you’re responding to those issues or why you may be responding to those issues in a certain way, it can create some extra tension."

For 80 years, Family Counseling Service has been offering mental health services and support to patients as young as three-years-old and up: from individuals, couples and in groups. 

"We've actually had an increase in people looking for services for their entire family, which is great right?" Phillips said. "They’re seeing that it’s not just one person in the family dealing with stuff; that the entire family has to address things together." 

Phillips advises that if you know there is someone in your family or friend group who is especially hurting or grieving, to not shy away from bringing that person up; that by letting others know you're missing that person as well can be helpful in letting your loved one know that they're not isolated in their grief. 

"Don't be afraid to bring up the person who's no there, who we're all missing. 'I remember during Christmas, Grandpa would always make this joke right about the time we were going to open presents.' Or, 'This was our favorite song to sing, and I really miss that!'" said Phillips. 

"If you're thinking about it, everyone else is probably thinking about it too."

She reminds that simply even listening to someone grieving or sharing a memory, can go a long way.

"A lot of times it’s not about what we say, but how willing we are to listen," Phillips said. "Remember, it's OK to ask, 'what can I do for you right now?'"

She also suggests reaching out on your own, whether with a phone call or a text, or by even dropping by their favorite treat.

Some ways to say you're needing extra support/help this holiday season:

Phillips said while it's important to be supportive, it's just as important for the person who is hurting to vocalize they may be needing that extra support. Here's some advice she provided along with examples:

- Setting boundaries: "I really love you guys, but I'm also dealing with some difficult things, so if I say no to family gatherings, please don't take it personally. It's something I have to do to take care of myself."

- Having realistic expectations for yourself and others: "It's OK that you’re going to feel sad, not every moment during the holidays is gonna be full of joy. Some of it’s going to be sadness and loss, but also knowing we feel that sadness and loss because of the love that we experienced for somebody."

- Think ahead: "If you know there’s a family event that was special to you or someone and someone won’t be there... Prepare for that." Maybe you go, maybe you stay for a little bit, or maybe you hold off. 

- Let people know when you need support and want to talk: "Knowing when to say, 'I would really like to spend some time with you because I'm feeling lonely.'" 

Meeting with Family Counseling Services:

FCS has also had a crime-victims services program that's been in place since the 90s, serving victims of violent crime and it's completely free. 

Phillips adds she wants to make sure the community knows they're there, are accessible and can be a resource to your family. 

"If you don't have insurance we can serve you. If you do have insurance, we can serve you," Phillips said. “If you do have insurance and you have a really high deductible or co-pay we have resources to help with that. We try really hard to be an open door for people who are in need of services."

FCS has offices in Kingsville and in Corpus Christi. To learn more about services, appointments and more, you can click here.


- On Your Mind: "How are you...Really?"

- On Your Mind: Corpus Christi ISD breaks down mental health resources for students, resources for students & teachers

- On Your Mind: Veterans groups discuss the mental health resources available to South Texas vets 

- NAMI of Greater Corpus Christi expands headquarters to continue providing services to those facing mental health issues  

- Rethinking the way mental health crises are handled in the Coastal Bend 

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