Feelings of Grief and Loss can be Heightened During the Holidays

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December 14, 2015 | NHPCO

Many people are greatly affected by ongoing media coverage of national and international tragedies that have played out in recent weeks, just ahead of the holidays. And for those individuals who are grieving the death of a loved one, the holiday season can also be a particularly painful time.

Hospice professionals, who are experts in helping people deal with feelings of loss and grief, recognize how difficult the holidays can be for some and offer helpful suggestions as the holiday season moves forward.

“Our spirits can be adversely affected by negative coverage from current events that seems to be coming at us from all angles, whether it’s via television, newspapers, radio, or the Internet. Our emotional reactions can be heightened during this time of year,” says J. Donald Schumacher, a licensed psychologist and president/CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “Situations that stress danger and uncertainty in the world around us are particularly discordant during the holidays when we traditionally think of a period of ‘peace on Earth.'”

Added Schumacher, “And for those mourning a loved one – whether a recent death or one long ago – the holiday season which is customarily marked by celebrations and family gatherings can be full of painful reminders that heighten  the sense of loss.”

Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support someone struggling during the holidays.

Here are some tips from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization:

  1. Be understanding and supportive if someone wants to do things differently this holiday season.  Some people find strength in long established traditions while others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.
  2. Offer to help with decorating or holiday cooking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving or overwhelmed by events going on in the world around us. Lending a hand can be a great way to let someone know you’re thinking about them and their wellbeing.
  3. Invite someone to join you or your family during the holidays.  If someone you know seems down or depressed, consider inviting them to join you for a holiday concert, religious service or a holiday meal where they are a guest. You might even offer to accompany them on a holiday shopping trip where a friend and extra set of hands can be helpful.
  4. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen, staffing a coat drive, or working with children, may lift your spirits and help everyone feel better about the holidays.
  5. Never tell someone that he or she should get ‘over it.’  It can be important to acknowledge that a friend or loved one is struggling. Don’t discount their emotions, but give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
  6. Be willing to listen.  Don’t avoid someone because you don’t know what to say. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping someone coping with grief or overwhelming feelings of loss. Letting them share their feelings can help healing.
  7. Don’t be afraid to remember someone who has died.  When someone is grieving, it is okay to let them know that you are thinking of the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.
  8. Follow up after the holidays to check in.  Given the activity of the season, some people may make it through the holidays without any issues but they might find the post-holiday period to be more difficult. So circling back after the holidays to see how he or she is doing can help.

“Hospice and palliative care professionals have always recognized the need to provide emotional and spiritual support to those who are dealing with loss,” added Schumacher. “Hospices often offer support to community members struggling with grief or loss so it might be useful to check with your community hospice to see if support is available.”

To learn more about grief or coping with loss, visit NHPCO’s CaringInfo website, www.caringinfo.org.