Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top Ten Ways to Manage Grief During the Holidays

Top Ten Ways to Manage Grief During the Holidays

The holidays can be a very difficult time for people who are grieving. You miss your loved one, especially during times of celebration and sharing. There is no easy way to make the grief go away, but there are certain strategies that can help you cope. Over time you will heal, but what can you do now? Here are some recommendations:

1. Take good care of yourself. Holidays are a busy time and it may be more challenging for you to accomplish all the different tasks you’ve done in holidays past. Don’t try to do more than you can handle. Take care of your basic daily needs – eating three meals a day, getting enough sleep, and exercising. If you don’t feel like writing holiday cards this year, people will understand. Maybe you’ll send them out next year.

2. Express your emotions. Don’t be afraid to cry if you need to, or tell people when you want extra space to be alone. If you feel like talking about your loved one, share your feelings with people who care. But if you’re not ready to do that, then let them know your wishes as well. Some people find comfort in keeping a journal to help them deal with their emotions. People grieve in different ways. Some express their emotions; others keep them inside. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but the more you share your story and the more often you can put these outside of your head, the greater the chance that your grief journey will be less difficult.

3. Seek help. Perhaps you used to cook the family holiday dinners and now you don’t even feel much like making just dessert. That’s okay. Ask for help from your friends and family. Maybe next year you will want to do more, but this year you may not be ready. Or, you may just need a shoulder to cry on. That’s where friends and counselors can make a difference.

4. Do something different. Some people find comfort in changing their routines. This may mean going out of town for the holidays. If you cooked at home, maybe going to a restaurant might be a good option. Or, just start a new tradition, such as seeing a movie after the holiday meal.

5. Celebrate in the same way. The opposite of the previous strategy is to stick with your traditional holiday routines with the same people and find comfort in them. How you react to this situation depends on your unique perspective. Not having your loved one there may trigger some sad moments. With time, however, these moments could transform into fond memories.

6. Help someone else. One way to feel more connected during the holiday is to volunteer. If you are at a point in your grief where you do can this, it’s very rewarding helping others.

7. Make a tribute to your loved one. Set aside some time to organize pictures and mementos. Talk about that person to your family, partner, spouse, and friends. Share the special holiday memories if that brings you comfort. You may not be able to do this the first year after your loss, but over time this ritual may become easier and healing.

8. Appreciate the people in your life. Your other loved ones need you and they can help you heal. The death of someone you love can make you realize just how precious life is and why it’s important to make the most out of blessings – even when you are struggling and with dealing with a loss.

9. Do something spiritual. This may involve visiting the cemetery of your loved one or attending a religious or non-denominational memorial service. You may also find a comfort in reading a poem or book or walking by the beach.

10. Don’t feel guilty about not being able to share the holidays in the same way as in the past. You may decide that you need extra time alone. Maybe you’re not ready to be immersed in the holiday spirit. Accept only the invitations that you think you can handle and try not to feel guilty about saying "no” to activities.

Hospice of Santa Cruz Country provides a variety of support to help people deal with grief during the holidays. Call 430-3000 and let us share the ways we can help.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Helping a Friend Who Is a Caregiver to a Hospice Patient

Helping a Friend Who Is a Caregiver to a Hospice Patient

By Linda Donovan, Grief Support Volunteer, Hospice of Santa Cruz County
Someone you know may suddenly be thrust into the role of a caregiver to a loved one who has become a hospice patient. You may be asking these questions: How do you help your friend at this critical time? How can you provide the best assistance without being intrusive? What can you do to assist your friend in coping with her added responsibilities? Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Make it known that you are available to provide assistance and recommend specific ways you can help. Don’t expect the caregiver to have a long list of things for you to do, or even to know what could be delegated. She may be so overwhelmed that it’s too much effort to even think about the ways people can provide assistance to her. If that’s the case, make a few suggestions to her. Perhaps you could pick up groceries, cook a meal, watch her loved one while she leaves to do an errand, do laundry, or walk her dog.

2. Offer to contact other people for her to keep them updated on the patient’s condition. Caregivers are often inundated with calls from people wanting to know how the patient is doing and desiring to express their sympathy and support. While it may be comforting for the caregiver to talk with people, it’s also emotionally draining. She may have to repeat the same sad story to various people, when she’d prefer to spend that time taking care of her loved one. If you are close friends, offer to communicate messages to a group of people by phone or email to keep them updated on the patient’s progress.

3. Assist out-of-town relatives who may be visiting the patient. Your friend may have family members from out of town who want to visit. They may need to picked up from the airport or taken to a hotel. While their visits may be comforting and welcome, it still involves a level of coordination that the caregiver may not have the time or energy to manage. Volunteer to help with their transportation or find another friend who might assist as well.

4. Bring over a treat to share with the caregiver. Depending on the stage of a patient’s illness, the caregiver may want to leave the house. There may be many times where she could be eating alone, or be so preoccupied that she’s tempted to skip meals. Offer to stop by and bring some coffee, cake, or a meal that you can share with her at a time that is convenient.

5. Enlist other people to help. Some efforts can make such a difference. Cooking meals can become a challenge for the caregiver, who may not have the time or energy to cook or shop. Find out if the family has special dietary restrictions. Then offer to organize a group of friends who can deliver meals to the caregiver. By doing this you are able to take care of an important need for the family and give others a chance to help show they care.

Each hospice patient’s experience is unique and people have various levels of help that they are comfortable accepting. Talk with your friend to find out what would be most helpful and appropriate. By making it known that you care, and offering specific assistance, you can make a real difference in helping people during this challenging time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Top Five Things to Know Before You Write a Sympathy Card
By Linda Donovan, Grief Support Volunteer, Hospice of Santa Cruz County

When someone you know dies, you may wonder about how to best express your feelings to the family. Sometimes it can be challenging trying to convey your concern at such a difficult time for the family. Here are some guidelines to help you write in a way that will make a difference.

1. Share something special about the person that died. For example, if the person was your school teacher, recall a memorable classroom experience and tell why that person had such an impact on you. People are often comforted by kind words about their loved ones.

2. Don’t make statements that the person is better off now because he or she is no longer suffering. Avoid clich├ęs like “he’s gone to a much better place,” “it’s good that he died quickly and didn’t have to suffer,” or “she was so sick that at least now she is no longer feeling any pain.” Being without their loved one may be more difficult than watching him or her decline. People react differently to death based on their experience and beliefs, so be careful not to make assumptions about whether someone is better off by no longer being alive.

3. Say that you are available for help and support and let the family know when and how you can help. Just after someone dies, the family members often receive a tremendous outpouring of sympathy, visitors, and assistance. But weeks later, they may be left all alone to deal with their loss. Knowing that they can call you if they need someone to walk their dog, pick up their kids after school, to share a meal, or just go out for a cup of coffee can make a real difference. It’s one thing to express platitudes of sorrow, but quite another to actually do something to help.

4. Keep your message concise. It may be too emotionally draining to read a long, detailed note. In fact, this person may receive so many cards that it’s overwhelming to read them all. What’s most important is that you contacted the grieving person and expressed your sympathy. Keep your note short and thoughtful.

5. Be sincere. Say what you mean. Speak honestly about the person that died and convey how lucky you were to have known that person. You don’t need to do this in great detail — just a sentence or two is fine. There’s a fine line between discussing the loss and dragging it out to the point that the reader feels even sadder after reading the letter.

Writing a sympathy card can be a challenging experience because the act of communicating this message can remind you of the loss. These recommendations may help to make a difficult process easier for you and more comforting for the person who receives your card.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dear Friends,

On behalf of the staff and volunteers of Hospice of Santa Cruz County, welcome to our blog, “Compassionate Connections.” Our intention behind this blog is to share stories and articles relating to hospice and palliative care, end-of-life experiences, caregiving, and the grief journey. You will find articles developed by Hospice of Santa Cruz County staff and trained volunteers as well as updates on general media coverage regarding end-of-life topics.

Each day, we provide professional medical care to the seriously ill, frail, and elderly, and extend expert care and compassion at the bedside. We honor the preciousness of life by helping individuals and their families better prepare for their last months and days. And by being accountable in the way we provide end-of-life care, we respond when you – the members of our community – need support.

We share this blog and information with our community as part of our organization’s mission, vision and values. Over the last 32 years, Hospice of Santa Cruz County has served thousands of patients and families at a precious time of life. We recognize that individuals and families are the guiding force in their own end-of-life experience. Our commitment is to offer expert, professional and compassionate care so that the end of life may be spent in comfort and with dignity.

This forum represents our shared value of building community awareness of hospice and end-of-life issues as part of the continuum of care. We hope you will find it informative and useful in caring for your family, friends and community.

Ann Carney Pomper
Executive Director