Grief Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Holidays

By Mike Colombo

 

S

upport and honesty can help the grieving during
the holidays

I wish I had met Carla Ingle four years ago. As I spoke about grief with Ingle, the bereavement coordinator at Heyman HospiceCare at Floyd, it was hard not to get emotional as her warm spirit made me feel comfortable talking about 2013. I lost two brothers that fall.
My youngest brother Steve died of bone cancer. Soon afterward, just days before Thanksgiving, my oldest brother Vincent died of liver cancer. My mother didn’t make it to the hospital until after Vincent died and it was the first time as an adult I had ever seen her really weep.
Mom had already planned to have a family Thanksgiving dinner. I assumed those plans were blown to bits by death, but mom insisted we get together. We did, and despite the sadness, had fun and enjoyed each other’s company. It was healing.

Carla Ingle, bereavement coordinator at Heyman Hospice Care

For many people coping with the realities of life, the holidays are not always easy.

Many people find themselves grieving, stressed, in financial difficulty, and lonely during this time of year. Some simply want to get through it; others look for new ways to celebrate.

Ingle can both empathize and sympathize with grieving families. She lost both her parents by the time she was in her early 20’s and had a younger sister who was not yet an adult. Nearly every family, Ingle said, deals with the holidays differently.

 

“Many seek creative and comforting ways to remember a family member,” Ingle said. “Some will light candles, put up pictures, and even Christmas stockings.”

Heyman HospiceCare at Floyd, part of the Floyd Medical Center health care system, offers grief classes to help friends, spouses, and other family members. Ingle said it’s important that every family self-evaluate their situation. Hospice workers realize that every family is different.

The New To Grief classes take place on the first Tuesday of each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Spousal Loss grief support takes place on the third Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Heyman HospiceCare at Floyd, 420 E. Second Ave.

Ingle said everyone should start with the New To Grief class.

Ingle stressed that grieving individuals need to do what is necessary to take care of themselves first and offered the following tips:

Be good to yourself: While giving is associated with the holidays, sometimes surviving grief requires survivors to be self-focused, paying attention to their needs and their feelings.

Be reasonable in your expectations and keep it simple:  It is likely that grief will mean the holidays will never quite be the same again. Ingle suggests those grieving should choose what they want to do, how they want to do it, and do it without apologies.

Ask for help: The sometimes frenetic pace of life can get even faster during the holidays. The bottom line is to respect yourself and claim the need for help.

Be aware of others – When to share and when to back off.

People may move in and out of different stages during the grieving process. These stages include:

  • Shock
  • Depression, loneliness, and a sense of isolation
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, body aches, or stomach distress
  • Feelings of panic
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Inability to return to daily routine
  • Return of feelings of hopefulness
  • Acceptance

For many people coping with the realities of life, the holidays are not always easy

It was years later that I learned yet even more about anticipatory grief, which occurs when a loved one has a prolonged illness. My father had dementia and for years needed constant care from my mother and my last surviving brother.

At least with both of my brothers and my dad, we knew it was coming. We had time to prepare.

 

While dealing with shopping issues pales in comparison to mourning the loss of a loved one, it’s wise not to add one stressor on top of another during the holiday season.

Rachel Camp, program manager of Willowbrooke at Floyd, urges people to take steps to do what they can to prevent creating their own stress during the holidays. Willowbrooke at Floyd is a free-standing, acute care behavioral health facility operated through a partnership between Floyd Medical Center and Willowbrooke at Tanner. It provides outpatient and inpatient treatment for children, teens, and adults.

“One of the best ways to deal with holiday stress is making plans as early as possible,” Camp said. “Once you start making your budget and calendar plans, do your best to actually stick to them. We tend to get overwhelmed when we add extra events to the calendar when we are already stretched thin. Just because something new pops up does not mean you have to commit to it.”

While Camp said it is a good idea to try to totally avoid situations that you feel may cause too much stress, some of us just can’t bring ourselves to that point.

“Deal with those situations by focusing on it being ‘just a season.’ We can usually remain positive and kind in order to get through difficulties if we know it’s only once a year.”

If you’re worried about money during the holidays, Camp suggests putting a little bit of money aside every single week immediately.

“Also, go ahead and make your list for presents and financial needs for each of those gifts. You’ll know your goal and can start those contributions now,” Camp said. “Give yourself some grace and remember that just because you feel the need to buy 15 more gifts on Dec. 20, that doesn’t mean that you should do it.”

Mike Colombo is the creative services manager with Floyd Medical Center’s public relations department. He and his wife Beth, who teaches pre-school at First Baptist Church of Rome, have three sons and a daughter. They are members of Second Avenue United Methodist Church in Rome.

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