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Hospice Offers Helpful Tips for Families Grieving this Holiday Season

holiday season, grief, Hospice

The holiday season is a time for celebration and family gatherings. However, many families this year will experience their first major holiday without a special loved one. Special traditions, images and memories can intensify feelings of sadness this time of year. But, as much as you may feel like isolating yourself during this time to avoid others’ cheerfulness, it is not a healthy coping mechanism. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers tips for loved ones dealing with a loss during the holidays, and tips for supportive families and friends who wish to help those who are grieving.

Most people are familiar with the “Five Stages of Grief” set forth by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The process is not always sequential, and people can move through the stages at different paces.

Recently, Margaret Baier PhD, an assistant professor in the family and consumer sciences department at Baylor and a marriage and family therapist, and Ruth Buechsel, a psychologist at Brooke Army Medical Center, found that certain events, including the anniversary of a death or a scene that jogs the memory of a loved one, can rebound a person back into grief again regardless of where they are in the process. Holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are certainly some of those difficult times that can send a person reeling into sadness.

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If you are coping with grief during this holiday season, Hospice suggests the following:
• Recognize that the holidays are not going to be the same and expect to feel some pain. Don’t try to make the day EXACTLY as it was when your loved one was alive. If Dad was always the one to carve the turkey, designate someone special to do the task in his honor, perhaps saying a prayer or a tribute beforehand.
• You may not feel like doing certain traditions – and that’s okay. Do not push yourself into doing something just because it has “always been done that way.” Set new traditions for your family to follow. For example, if holiday cards are just too difficult for you to accomplish this season, wait until after New Year’s to send out a letter, updating everyone on what you are up to.
• It is okay to want to spend some time alone reflecting on your past with your loved one, but do not spend the holidays in isolation. Talk with family members and friends about your feelings and share stories about your loved one.
• Accept the help offered to you from others. Do not try to take on additional stress to “push through” the difficult time. If you typically hold a holiday meal at your home, give yourself permission to cut back and allow family members to bring dishes for the meal instead of trying to do it all yourself.
• If you are not already, keep a journal during this time. It can be a great outlet for venting, reflecting, or just brainstorming. Some people choose to write letters to their loved ones to include them on the happenings of the season. You can also use the journal to write poetry or draw pictures if you are so inclined.
• Just for yourself, you may want to do something special in honor of your loved one, such as creating a memory book, watching an old home movie, or read letters written to you from your loved one. You could also purchase yourself a small gift that you think your loved one might have gone out to get for you if they were still here.
• Hospice often offers counseling sessions and memorials this time of year for those grieving. Consider attending one, or another type of gathering that helps you through this time.
Taking care of your health is a top priority. Eat healthy meals, exercise to reduce stress and depression symptoms, and get plenty of rest. Studies also show that opening the windows to allow direct sunlight in can reduce depression symptoms as well.

For those who love someone who is grieving this time of year, here are some tips for being supportive:
• Allow a person to handle the holidays in the best way he or she can. Do not force them into a party if they do not wish to go. Allow them to leave early if they wish. There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays – give your friend some space to cope in their own way, but be there for them if they need you.
• Offer to help with baking, cleaning, decorating, etc. which can be overwhelming to a person this time of year.
• Consider donating money toward an important cause as a “gift” for the person who has passed.
• Never, ever tell a grieving person to “get over it” or “move on.” Everyone moves through the stages of grief at their own pace. However, if you are concerned that a person is overly isolating themselves, or is not coping in a healthful way, offer some help by listening and being there for them when needed.

Hospice is a philosophy of care for patients with life-limiting illnesses. A team of professionals and trained volunteers offer care and comfort to patients and their families when a cure is no longer possible. Fully covered by Medicare and most insurance companies, hospice services are available at home or in a facility such as a nursing home.

More information about grief and loss is available from NHPCO's Caring Connections at www.CaringInfo.org or by calling the HelpLine at 1-800-658-8898.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
"The Five Stages Of Grief." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 27 Sep. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.