Five Ways to Get through the Holidays after Loss: Bereavement Support after Hospice Care

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” -Anne Roiphe, Author

After the death of a loved one, especially one you’ve cared for during their hospice journey, the holidays can be particularly tender. You might feel gratitude that you were able to care for your terminally ill family member, and you may be relieved that they are no longer suffering. The holidays, which are typically a joyous time of gathering and celebration, also carry grief after a season of illness and loss.

How can you navigate grief while honoring their memory? We offer five ways to remember, celebrate, and prepare. Additionally, learn about the bereavement support services available from Heart to Heart Hospice.

Steps to Making it through the Holidays after Loss

  1. Adjust your plans and expectations. Simplifying can help you make space for expected grief, while also making room for joy. Reduce stress by ordering meals, simplifying gift giving, and lessening your calendar obligations. Make a plan so the dates and gatherings don’t sneak up on you. Chaplain Danny C. Mack offers this wisdom: 
    • You don’t have to do what you did last year.
    •  You don’t have to do next year what you do this year.
  2. Remember the one who is gone. Acknowledging your loss and honoring your loved one’s memory will help much more than avoiding the sadness. Remember that it’s normal to experience disappointment if remaking treasured memories doesn’t go as planned. Everyone handles loss differently. If you are vulnerable with your grief, others will be more likely to open up as well. 
    • Don’t be afraid to say their name or share special memories. “This was mom’s favorite ornament!” “Remember the time we drove around looking at lights singing carols at the top of our lungs?” 
    • Do something in their honor. Purchase a special memorial gift (like an ornament or garden stone), light a candle, bake their favorite goodies, watch their favorite holiday movie. 
    • Look through old photos or videos.
  3. Create a new memory or tradition. Getting out of a rut and engaging in a new activity can help usher in joy. Attend a concert, play, or candlelight service. It’s healthy to still smile, laugh, and enjoy yourself.
  4. Take care of yourself physically. Stay hydrated, do light exercise, and eat as well as possible. While it’s okay to treat yourself to the occasional Christmas cookie, don’t overindulge in food or alcohol as a means of escape or dealing with loss.
  5. Be honest with yourself and ask for help when needed. You may find comfort in attending family or community celebrations so you don’t become too isolated. As grief comes in unpredictable waves, you might need to excuse yourself early or ask for a smaller group to gather together. If needed, seek outside help like counseling, therapy, or support groups.

Bereavement Support

Heart to Heart Hospice not only provides support for patients and their caregivers during hospice care, but also offers bereavement services up to 13 months after death. We provide valuable bereavement literature with wisdom compiled by experts in hospice loss. Our spiritual care coordinators and social workers also aid in support and guide you to outside resources.

Your first holidays after loss will not be the same, but they can still be good. Take time to acknowledge your grief, while still making room for joyful traditions.

Book recommendations for loss and the holidays: 

How Will I Get Through the Holidays, James E. Miller

Seasons of Grief and Healing, James E. Miller

Healing Your Holiday Grief, Alan D. Wolfelt

Thoughts for the Holidays, Finding Permission to Grieve, Doug Manning

*Article adapted from a newsletter article by Rev. Danny C. Mack, Chaplain, Heart to Heart Hospice of San Antonio/Pearsall, and Psychology Today article, Holidays After the Death of a Loved One.