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Hinsdale, Illinois |


Published December 13, 2007

Holidays a tough time to deal
with loss

   Wellness House is about healing. Sometimes the healing is physical. Sometimes it’s spiritual. And sometimes it involves healing from the loss of a loved one.
   My friend John Caprini is trying to heal after losing his wife, Betsy, June 7.
   I met the Caprinis 20 years ago when my mom started babysitting for their kids, Stephanie and Matthew. They are such generous, loving people and over the years have become like family to me.
   Betsy had her first battle with cancer 14 or 15 years ago. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. Later, the cancer came back in her lymph nodes, and she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Then three years ago she developed a skin rash and doctors told her she had stage four lung and liver cancer.
    Betsy was a fighter, and she battled the disease until doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her. She was only 52 when she died.
   Now John is struggling to find a new life without Betsy. The bereavement group he attends at Wellness House helps, he said.
   “You know what the other person feels and you know how and why they’re saying it,” he said. “You get a lot of comfort knowing when you talk, they know how you feel. You don’t have to worry about what you say and how you say it.”
   Friends often don’t know how to talk to you, he said. They don’t want to invade your privacy and aren’t sure how you’ll respond if you bring up this difficult subject. Some want to avoid the topic themselves.
   “They don’t want to believe it’s happened or they just want to push it under the rug,” he said.
   But he so appreciates hearing about how Betsy touched other people’s lives. Her law firm invited him to the company Christmas party this month and one of the associates told John she could tell how much Betsy loved him by the way she looked at him. Hearing that meant a lot to him.
   John’s experiences are not unusual, according to Michael Williams, a clinical psychologist who is on staff at Wellness House. Friends and family often want to help the person who has lost someone feel better, not worse, and so they often avoid the topic. But that doesn’t help.
   “It’s much more uncomfortable to be someplace where people are pretending and not saying the name,” he said.
   The surviving spouse and children also might be reluctant to share how they feel, especially at a time when everyone is supposed to be happy.
   “When in doubt on both sides, say something,” he said.
   He encourages people who are grieving to try to find a balance between isolating themselves and taking on too much during the holidays.
   “Give yourself choices,” he said. “Let people know you might leave an event.”
   The temptation is to get swept up in preparations, but some people need to simplify by shopping less, cooking less and doing less.
   “Stay connected, stay plugged in in a way that feels good, but also give yourself time to grieve,” he said.
   Some people like to preserve traditions that were favorites of the person they lost. Others need to start new traditions. People also should think about what they will do after the holidays, as it can be hard to go from a very busy time to a very quiet one.
   “People ought to plan for smaller events afterward,” Williams said. He also suggests making plans to begin a meditation or exercise program.
   John has worked very hard not to become isolated.
   “One of the big things that has helped me out a lot is I promised myself I would never say no to anybody,” he said. If friends or family invite him to join them, he does. “Believe me, it’s very simple to say no and hide.”
   He’s also found solace in working on his 1974 MGB convertible, which he bought after Betsy died, and through working to support Wellness House. He’s on the planning committee for the Equinox Ball once again this year.
   He said he still can’t believe he’s in this situation, but he knows he has no choice but to learn how to cope with it. He has too much in front of him — someday he wants to see his kids get married and become a grandparent.
   “It’s a catch 22,” he said of his efforts to get better. “You don’t want to but you know you have to. This is just life.”

- by Pamela Lannom


— Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and Wellness House to increase awareness
about the organization, which works to encourage,
educate and emotionally support people working to
overcome the affects of cancer in their work.




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