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Grief on steroids: Helping people deal with loss over the holiday season

The holiday season is a time for family and friends to gather together to celebrate and share. That's why this season can be such a difficult and emotionally charged time for anyone who is experiencing grief due to the loss of a loved one. For many, the holidays mean grief on steroids: a further intensification of loss and sadness.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and in anticipation of the holiday season, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers Nine Tips to Help Someone Grieving During the Holidays. It's an excellent reminder to reach out to someone we know who may need the support and offers great advice for those of us who want to help but just may not know how.

1. Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.

2. Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.

3. Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.

4. Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or at a holiday meal where they are a guest.

5. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.

6. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.

7. Never tell someone that he or she should be “over it.” Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.

8. Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.

9. Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten.

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. More information about grief or hospice is available from NHPCO’s Caring Connections, www.caringinfo.org.

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