Coping with grief during the holidays

Laurie Oswalt, Director of Spiritual Care Services at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, talks about ways to cope with grief during the holidays Nov. 19, 2013, on KIT 1280.

Topic:   Coping with grief during the holidays

Guest:  Laurie Oswalt, Director of Spiritual Care Services at Memorial

Date:  Nov. 19, 2013

The holidays are coming around, and while they are a time of joy and celebration for many, they can be especially difficult for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. There are some steps a grieving person can take to make the burden a little easier.

  • Be honest with yourself and with others about what you’re feeling, about what you’re able to do and what you don’t feel like doing for yourself and for others.
    • Example: You think you should “be strong” and go to the holiday party. Your friend helps by giving you a ride, but once you’re there, you realize it’s not the best place for you and you’re stuck somewhere you’re not ready to be.
  • Traditions – Don’t feel like you have to have the holidays be the same as always out of respect for your lost loved one. Maybe it’s a year to simplify or make new traditions, out of respect for that person and those who are still here.
    • The flip side of that: people who want to throw everything out and start all new traditions, believing they are “ready to start fresh.” Often, they later wish they had held on to some things. Keeping some traditions may honor your lost loved one.

There also are a few things caregivers should keep in mind about grieving people.

  • Remember: Every person grieves differently, and at a different pace.
  • Manage your expectations.
    • Talk openly and honestly about what the grieving person would like.
    • Help that person with his or her own expectations and traditions.

Example: “How can I help you and also protect you from others who are eager to help you?”

A study once listed the 141 things we say to try to be helpful when someone loses a loved one, but it found that only 19 of those things are actually helpful.

  • Comments to avoid:

“I know just how you feel.” No, you don’t.

“He’s in a better place.” He’s not here.

  • Comments that might help:

“I have no idea what to say.” It’s honest.

“Do you want to talk about it?” You’re open to listening. Be prepared if the answer is no.

Say nothing. Give a hug, if it’s appropriate.

Sometimes, in wanting to help, we’re not particularly helpful. People rarely reach out to someone who says “Let me know if I can help.”

But, you could say, “I’m going to walk my dog, and I’ll walk your dog too.”

Or, “I’m going to bring you food. Is there something you don’t eat?”

I often tell people who are grieving to keep a pad and pen nearby, to jot down simple things they need as they think of them. So when someone asks if there’s anything they can do, they’re ready: “I’m out of milk.”

Frequently asked questions:

Are there bereavement services available in Yakima?

Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital offers a variety of classes and services on many diseases and medical challenges that are faced by our community, including bereavement services to help you cope with the loss of a loved one. Memorial’s “Can We Talk?” monthly speaker series focuses on end-of-life issues, from palliative care and hospice to grief and loss.

How do I find out more?

For more information about the “Can We Talk?” monthly speaker series or other bereavement services at Memorial, visit our website at yakimamemorial.org or call 575-8035.

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