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November 14, 2016

Getting Through the Holidays after a Loss

by Stephanie Patel, MD, Care Dimensions Vice President and Chief Medical Officer

After losing a loved one, many people approach the holiday season with anxiety and dread. Although it is normal to have these feelings during such a difficult time, most people can reduce at least some of the stress by planning ahead and knowing the resources for support in their community. As the holidays near, there are a few key things to keep in mind: 1) there is no right or wrong way to cope with loss, and even if others don’t always understand your decisions, that doesn’t make them right or wrong, and 2) your emotions are likely to be even more changeable than usual, but tears and sadness don’t have to ruin the entire season.

At Care Dimensions, our specially trained bereavement counselors understand the toll that grief can take, especially at the holidays. You may feel overwhelmed, but with support, you and your family can still enjoy meaningful and joyful experiences during this holiday season.

  • If you have lost a loved one, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission not to live up to others’ expectations for you, but listen to your heart and only do those things that feel right.
  • Plan to spend time with people you enjoy, and who can accept your sadness as well as your joy.
  • Know that it is okay to make your needs known to people. Those who care about you generally really do want to help but often aren’t sure how.
  • Remember that taking care of your needs includes eating right, getting exercise and ensuring that you have enough rest.
  • Have a family meeting prior to the holiday to discuss everyone’s needs.
  • Changing routines that have been part of your holidays, but that may seem too painful this year can help. Think about opening presents on a different day or time.
  • Take each social occasion and invitation at a time, so they don’t get overwhelming. You may feel like participating on some days, while others may seem too difficult. When invited to an event, ask to leave the invitation open so you can decide how you feel at the last minute.
  • Make shopping lists. When you are having a “good day,” take out the list and go shopping. You’ll be able to accomplish much more in a shorter amount of time and with less uncertainty. Consider simpler shopping methods this year, such as ordering online or from catalogues, or buying gift certificates.
  • Remember your loved one in different ways. Think about lighting a candle in memory of your loved one; observing a moment of silence before dinner; make a charitable donation in memory of your loved one; wrapping a picture of your loved one or one of their cherished belongings and give it as a gift to another family member who shares your loss.

If you are trying to help children cope with a loss, remember that children need consistency to feel safe. If you plan to make some changes in routines, try to present these as something “fun” you’re going to be doing, instead of something that is not going to be happening this year.

If you yourself are not grieving, but care about someone who is, remember that each person grieves differently, and one of the greatest gifts you can give is to be patient and allow your friends to express whatever feelings they have without worrying that you will be critical of them.

You are not alone. Care Dimensions will hold a one-time workshop on Thursday, December 15 at 6:30 p.m. in our Waltham office, 333 Wyman Street, Suite 100, to offer helpful ways to cope. Participants will have time to share their stories and find mutual support. To register, contact Mary West at 978-774-5100 or email To learn more about additional workshops visit the calendar section of

Care Dimensions Hospice House Video Tour

The Care Dimensions Hospice House, located in Lincoln on the Waltham town line, is a gracious and private home-like setting for patients who need hospital-level care for complex pain and symptom management. To learn more, call our Referral Center at 888-287-1255.

Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.