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Surviving the holidays after the loss of a loved one

Hospital news | Sunday, December 7, 2014

Family gatherings, parties with co-workers, shopping for gifts, worship services, caroling, baking cookies with grandchildren- all traditions during the holiday season. While the holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration, for many of us who have lost someone close, it is a time where we can't help being reminded of who isn't here- the empty chair at the table.

Barb Stagman, Social Worker with Crossing Rivers Health Homecare, commented, “There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays after the loss of a loved one. Grieving can take quite some time and everyone is on their own clock. For some, it's very difficult to follow family traditions when conscious and unconscious reminders seem like they’re everywhere.”

Crossing Rivers Health offers these suggestions to help fill the emptiness we feel when it seems everyone else is overflowing with joy during the holidays and beyond.

Be Kind to Yourself- The best thing you can do this holiday season is be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is your feeling. Get plenty of rest and make healthy choices when it comes to nutrition and exercise. Don’t take on any more tasks than you can handle. If you need to be alone, honor that. If you welcome the company and affection of others, seek it out. Do whatever it is that feels right to you. It’s is alright to walk away from a group of people if it's too overwhelming and take a break.

Ask For and Accept Help- You will need the help and support of others to get through the holidays. Friends, family members and co-workers want to help those they care about. This is the time to speak up and make your needs known. If you need someone to help you with meals, shopping, or decorating, tell them so. They will be delighted to feel like they are helping you in some way.

Find Support- Sharing your feelings is the best way to get through them. Friends and relatives can be a great support during times of grief, but they are sometimes full of their own grief or juggling busy holiday schedules that they cannot be a support to you. Organized support groups may provide the setting for you. Support group members often make friends that end up being a source of support for years to come. For information on Grief Support Groups offered in Southwest Wisconsin and Northeast Iowa through Crossing Rivers Health, call 608-357-2000 or visit

Stop the Comparisons- It’s easy to watch other families and compare them to your own. Seeing other families together and enjoying the festivities may make you feel sad and depressed. Try to embrace what you have rather than compare it to what you think others have.

Remember that you will survive- Christmas and New Year’s may be the most difficult season in your time of grief, but they will pass. You don’t have to enjoy the holidays. You don’t even have to pretend to enjoy the festivities. But, it’s also fine if you allow yourself permission to have a good time in spite of your grief. If happiness slips through your window of grief, allow it to happen and enjoy it.

Honor your loved one- Include your loved one in your conversations and celebrations. Hang a stocking for your loved one so that family members may insert notes or messages. Look at some of your favorite photographs. When others realize that you are comfortable talking about your loved one, they can relate stories that will add to your pleasant memories. You may also want to establish a new tradition where you express your feelings toward the person who passed. This could be writing a letter, going to the grave, or spending time in prayer if you are spiritual or religious.

Do something for others: Often times helping others or volunteering is a great way to work through grief and to help make the holidays happier for others. Ideas include volunteering at the local food pantry, visiting an elderly neighbor, or provide help for a needy family.

Haley Schroeder is also a social worker at Crossing Rivers Health. She adds, “The best gift you can give anyone you love, even someone you have lost, is being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest. The entire healthcare team at Crossing Rivers Health wishes everyone a wonderful holiday season, and a joyous new year.”

Crossing Rivers Health Hospice serves communities in Southwest Wisconsin and Northeast Iowa. The program offers support for those with a terminal illness who no longer wish to have curative treatment. Hospice focuses on all aspects of care, such as physical, emotional, social, medical, financial and spiritual needs. To learn how Hospice may benefit someone you know, please call 608-357-2000.