The holidays can be challenging for people who have a terminally ill loved one. During the holidays we are accustomed to finding ourselves surrounded by the love and warmth of family and friends. We cherish the depth and beauty of these connections and celebrate shared traditions and rituals with togetherness, laughter, and joy, but when that family member or friend is in hospice, the holidays may not be all that joyous.
For those who are grieving or have a seriously ill loved one, the holidays can magnify the realities of our loss as the actuality of the void left by our loved one, or the heightened recognition of an impending loss. If someone you know is in hospice during the holidays, there are still ways that family members and friends can still celebrate the season with resources available for helping to navigate this time of year. Remembering that your loved one is in a safe and comforting place can help provide some peace for the situation.
If a patient is in a hospice center, many will gladly help its residents celebrate their respective holidays. Family members can also assist in decorating their loved one’s room with personal photos and favorite items that will remind them of their home and make them feel connected to the family. Decorations, games, and festive meals can help patients feel connected to holiday celebrations.
There are also usually many community events and activities by volunteer groups, schools, and other community organizations. They visit seniors in nursing homes and hospice centers for the holidays to sing, host pageants, and deliver gifts.
Staff members at hospice homes and centers can also help family members who are trying to cope with this situation by being able to suggest visiting times that will coincide with the facility’s holiday activities so that they can be experienced together, like special dinners or tree-lighting ceremonies. They can also connect people to support groups that can supply additional support for families trying to navigate the holidays with an ill loved one. Finding a community that can provide support and guidance can be important for helping some cope.
For patients, the holidays can also be difficult. They may feel sad or fearful. Some are not physically up to traveling or enjoying the company and many of them are living with the reality that this may be their very last holiday season. That realization alone can have a major impact on how they and their loved ones are coping this time of the year.
Family members might feel a sense of urgency to make what might be the last holiday together special as they grieve for their terminally ill loved one, but also for the fact that future holidays will never be the same. They still have the same expectations and traditions in their families that they’ve always had but now everything is different and will be.
Whether you’re the patient or a family member, it’s important, to be honest with yourself and with loved ones. If you can’t handle a group of visitors, say so. If you need help with plans and arrangements, don’t be afraid to ask. Above all, be honest with family and friends so they know how they can help you. We don’t always want to admit it, but we all need help, and there’s no shame in it.