Coping with Grief during the Holidays
Marcus Daly Home Health and Hospice
Doug Peterson, Chaplain
A Service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton MT 59840
Coping with Grief during the Holidays
Last week, on a trip west to visit family for Thanksgiving, we stopped
to see a dear friend whose husband had taken his life a couple of months
ago. On the way home, we stopped in Walla Walla to visit a great aunt
whose husband died last month after years of debilitating Alzheimer's disease.
I have some friends who spent Thanksgiving out of state. It will likely
be their last Thanksgiving with their cancer ridden father.
Last Christmas I visited with my sister, whose son died three years earlier.
I asked her if the holidays were still difficult. "It never gets
better," she told me.
The holidays can be difficult for families facing serious illness or loss.
A major component of the care provided by Marcus Daly Hospice is bereavement
support for the first year after the death of a loved one. That first
birthday, Christmas, or anniversary can be particularly difficult. It's
hard to celebrate Thanksgiving when your heart is broken and empty. Grief
is always challenging. During the holidays it can be downright unbearable.
That's just how it is.
As hospice chaplain, when I am working with people who have experienced
a loss, often the first thing I tell them is that there is no right or
wrong way to grieve. Some people cry. Some don't. Some people try
to keep busy. Some don't like to get out of bed! Some people just
want to be alone. Some can't bear the thought of being by themselves.
It's okay. It just is.
I'll encourage them to take care of themselves. Get sleep. Go for
walks. Or don't. If friends are staying too long, let them know you'd
like them to leave now. Thank you cards and holiday letters can wait.
Ask for what you want. Receive what you need. Be kind to yourself, I'll
tell them. Grief is a lot of work.
I also urge the grieving to be open to the support of others-family, neighbors,
church, and faith. Living in the Bitterroot, you are surrounded by caring
hospice volunteers, small church groups, service organizations, store
owners, care providers, neighbors, and family. You aren't alone. In
fact, many people choose to work through their own grief by reaching out
to help others who are lonely or grieving or in need. Others have told
me stories about visions and encounters in which their deceased loved
one is perceived "at peace" in the next life. I am coming to
realize that, around death and dying, the veil between what we can see
and what we can't see becomes thin.
Be kind to yourself and be open to others. That about sums it up.
For those reading this article that want to support loved ones who are
grieving this holiday season, give them the gift of your quiet presence.
Be there for your grieving friend or loved one. They need you. Your prayers.
Your hugs. Your concern. Your presence. The most important part of our
visit last week might have been throwing the football in the backyard
with our friend's 10 year old son. "Being there" also means
noticing when it's time to give them space. Generally speaking, keep
visits short-30 minutes or less. Being there means you are there for them,
not for yourself.
And be "quiet." This means, first of all, that your own heart
is at peace. Before you visit or call a grieving loved one, make sure
you set aside your own grief, your own stress and anxieties. Don't
burden them with one more thing to worry about! Have a quiet heart when
you visit or call.
Being quiet isn't the same as being silent. It is okay to share your
condolences and tears. Share positive stories and remembrances of past
holidays with the deceased-but take your cues from the one who is closest
to the grief. Let them know you care.
If you share a faith tradition, then use the hymns and scripture and prayers
of that tradition to reinforce faith and comfort in the time of death.
If they go to church, offer to go with them, or to sit with them during
the service. Don't force it.
Being quiet also means just that: don't talk too much. Don't preach.
Don't rationalize. Don't minimalize or moralize. Don't try
to defend. Don't say things you think might make your friend feel
better. It probably won't. That's because grief is intensely personal
work, and, until they are ready, our words are mostly just noise. The
longer I work with grieving families, the less I have to say, and the
more I simply listen, acknowledge, and encourage.
Our friend is facing a difficult Christmas season, but she knows she's
not forgotten. My sister continues to grieve deeply, and I pray that this
year will be a little better. My friends battled the cold and bad weather
to be with their dad, and they'll treasure those memories in the years
ahead. My great-aunt was thrilled that we could share dinner with her
on our way through town. May you use this holiday season to be open to
mystery, to be thankful, and to be kind to others, especially those who
have recently experienced a loss or grief.
Marcus Daly Hospice staff and volunteers are hosting their 24th annual
Tree of Lights ceremony on Saturday, December 12th at Marcus Daly Memorial
Hospital. All are welcome to join us for our annual Tree of Lights ceremony
which is a time to reflect and remember those we love during this special
time of year. The Hospice Volunteers are hosting a cookie reception prior
to the ceremony which begins at 3:00pm in conference rooms B/C. The Celebration
of Light ceremony will follow at 3:30pm and take place in the new MDMH
Blodgett/Canyon View conference rooms. This celebration will include holiday
music and the reading of loved ones names who have passed away. The event
will conclude with the lighting of the tree at the Hospice Center entrance.
Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please
contact, Doug Peterson, Chaplain at Marcus Daly Hospice Center and Services,
a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton,
MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!