The winter holidays can create all sorts of often-conflicting feelings for people receiving end-of-life care and their families.
Residents of Manchester and elsewhere might be scared and sad at the same time they’re enjoying their final time together with loved ones. Plus, every other emotion in between.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Care and Hospice are familiar with these types of feelings that come up this time of year.
On one hand, people may be sad at current circumstances and feel somewhat removed from the standard end-of-year holiday rituals and responsibilities due to more pressing concerns.
On the other hand, they may find opportunities to treasure their remaining time, especially at holidays that are already packed full of good feelings and general sentimentality. There also may be some advantages to not having to deal with the standard holiday stresses this year.
Similar feelings may be experienced by loved ones, many of who have already started the grief process. They’ll know this is the last holiday with a special person in their life, and next year’s may not be as enjoyable. So, if there ever was an occasion to pull out the stops and have a grand old time, it could be this one.
Dealing with the feelings
Whatever people are feeling, that’s OK. And if your mood changes throughout the day, that’s OK too. The same is true if some family members need to take a break from the good cheer because it may make them sad. The opposite is true as well for those who feel sad but want to find happy moments.
Part of the process of grieving means that everyone is at different points, even loved ones.
But there are some strategies that people can do to make things memorable and consider everyone’s feelings.
- Acknowledge that everyone is feeling unusual. People may think that they’re the only ones who aren’t sure how to feel. So, make it something to be celebrated. Give everyone the opportunity and permission to go step outside for a good cry if needed or a good laugh or do it in front of everyone else. No one has to be embarrassed. This normalizing of everyone’s feelings can go a long way to helping create an atmosphere that’s supportive whether everyone is laughing or crying together.
- Go all out. If you have favorite Christmas traditions, even some that you don’t always do every year or haven’t done for a few years, try to do as many of them as you’re able to. Besides being fun it can provide some stability and help people make positive memories in the future if they repeat these traditions themselves.
- Skip the less fun stuff. If some parts of Christmas or holiday activities make people feel stressed or uncomfortable, even before this year, find ways to avoid or minimize them. Although it still will be nice to bring everyone together for a lovely meal, look for options for take-out or a pot-luck so people aren’t stuck in the kitchen all day. This will let them take part in the festivities, rather than being worn out from cooking. Or instead of wrapping presents, suggest putting things in gift bags.
- Change the rules for gift-giving. Shopping, wrapping, and giving may be an important part of the holiday ritual for some so you don’t need to consider eliminating this. But suggest some ways to make the occasion special and the gifts memorable. If you’re the one receiving hospice care, consider giving your loved ones a memory book. This will be a touching gift as well as a wonderful keepsake for them. You can make a general one for everyone with some of the stories of your life, or make something specific for each recipient. Or if you don’t consider yourself much of a writer, look for other ways to chronicle this info, such as recording yourself or using talk-to-text software. There are also fill-in-the-blank forms for people who feel more comfortable telling stories than writing them down.
- Say cheese. Make sure there’s at least one group photo taken and copies made or offered. This will offer people a physical copy of a special moment in the future, especially if things aren’t much fun. It’s a good opportunity to photograph serious poses as well as some where everyone gets crazy.
- Find reasons to laugh. Laughter has value – it can help people release stress and create endorphins, which make the body feel good. A solid belly laugh actually exercises the body and burns calories. Whether you’re laughing as a group at the dinner table or in the living room while watching a funny holiday movie, it can be a great ingredient.
Hospice care officials may have other suggestions to make the holidays merry but also acknowledging that people may be sad.
There are also additional resources at the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, which offers information for people dealing with pancreatic cancer as well as those who love them and support them at this challenging time. One recent event was Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month which took place in November.