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Ten Ways to Cope with Losing a Loved One During the Holidays

Golden LivingCenters | posted December 09, 2014 | Bookmark and Share

While the holiday season brings cheerful music in the mall, children visiting Santa and family gatherings around a dining table, for those with loved ones in hospice care, they must admit that this – without a miraculous intervention – will be the last holiday season they spend with their loved one. The last Thanksgiving. The last Christmas. The last Hanukkah. 

We celebrate the “first” holidays with newborns. You see t-shirts and one-sies in the baby aisle that hail “My First Christmas” and the like, but we rarely celebrate someone’s “last” holiday with the same fervor. If you have a loved one under hospice care this season, helping them celebrate their “last” holiday can be even more momentous and memorable if you choose to make it so. 
The following 10 ideas for how to make this holiday season even more special and manageable for the family as your loved one enters their final journey. 
1. Have courage. The coming days, weeks and months will be daunting for you and your loved one. Taking a moment each morning to affirm your inner courage will help you be the comforter your loved one needs during this time. While you may be frightened at losing them, they can be scared even more than you are at the unknown or their unfinished business. Finding your internal courage will help you both. 
2. Ask for help. Your most precious commodity right now is time, so ask for help with the chores that easily can be done by others, such as shopping, decorating, baking, cleaning, laundry, packing and cooking. Save your energy to spend quality time with your loved one.
3. Have a contingency plan. While families hope their loved ones will make it to the actual holiday date, a loved one’s condition may worsen more quickly than anticipated. Make sure key family members are ready to mobilize in case celebrations need to be held a week or two earlier. Remember that “December 25” is just a date on a calendar. 
4. Set healthy limitations. You may not be able to do everything on your to-do list. This is OK. Focus on doing the things that are meaningful and important to your loved one, you, and your family.
5. No “should.” This year may be different than you expect or plan. Try to let things unfold in their own time and try to accept that even painful situations can be full of beauty and grace. Don’t let the thought of something you “should” have done steal the precious memories you can make right now in the present. 
6. Be flexible. You may want to cling to traditions or you may want to change things up. Try to keep things as joyous as possible for children, family members and yourself. If something unexpected happens, it could bring a light moment or a poignant memory. Go with the flow and let it unfold.
7. Be honest with each other.  Families should share apprehensions, feelings and fears with a relative or friend they trust. If you have a loving thought or feeling you share, now is the time to be honest and open about that too and share it. 
8. Take care of yourself. Often a caregiver can get so wrapped up in their duties with their loved one, they neglect themselves. However, you can’t continue to “give” from an empty cup. Get plenty of rest. Take time for your own personal care, and be easy on yourself. 
9. Get emotional. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Cry if you want to cry, laugh if you want to laugh and trust that you are doing the very best with the tools you have during this difficult time.
10. Make memories. Have each family member bring pictures and other items, so you can put together a memory book or scrap book with their loved one. The family can reminisce with their loved one and share the stories behind the pictures and other items as they put the book together and then they will have something tangible to keep in the family and refer to during future family gatherings.
Preparing to let go of a loved one can be one of the most painful of life’s challenges. However, while you still have the gift of time, enjoy it and take comfort in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. “You never really leave a place (or person) you love. Part of it you take with you, leaving part of yourself behind.” While your loved one is about to make their transition out of this life, the wisdom and memories they have created with you will endure. Make some lasting memories with your family and friends this holiday season as time has become the most important commodity right now. Through your journey, we hope your hospice support system will help your family and friends find peace, cherish unforgettable moments and spend time with the ones they love the most.

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