55 PLUS - Hospice looks at coping with grief, holidays

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Grief is difficult at any time but perhaps more acute during the holidays. But there are ways to get through troubled times and live in joy and optimism again.

Walla Walla Community Hospice will present its annual two-session class, "Getting Through the Holidays" at 10-11:30 a.m. or 6-7:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 and 17.

"It's only two sessions, so it's not overwhelming to commit to attending," said Arlene Whitney, medical social worker at Walla Walla Community Hospice. She said the sessions are informative and generate discussion.

The first session includes a video of families being interviewed. "Many families are faced with the loss of children. It presents ideas to help you keep your connections but not overwhelm yourself. Then talk about it. Even if the loss is many years ago, people stuff feelings and then suddenly something will trigger it." Anyone suffering from a loss, recent or otherwise, is encouraged to attend. Registration is recommended by Thursday at 525-5561.

The enormous amount of energy, time and money expended for the holidays may increase a bereaved person's distress. "Many people don't realize they have a choice. If you're grieving you probably don't have a lot of energy, don't burn out further," Whitney said. People don't have to accept all the social invitations or just stay home, either.

"A big thing is to realize you don't have to do everything the same as you did before," she said. "Keep what's meaningful and you have the energy for."

"If the family is used to getting together, that absent person is very front and center," she said. "Everyone reacts to grief differently. They can start taking it out on each other and it can turn into a painful situation."

The holidays can still be a time of joy and reflection. "With a little preplanning and some communicating it can be turned into a time of remembering," she said. But spend a little time honoring the departed, not the whole time.

Every family copes differently. Some want to talk about it, some don't. "Some set out an empty chair. Some families will light a candle for that person. The grief and the loss is right out in the open," Whitney said.

"If the children can see the adults acknowledging their grief and expressing their feelings of loss, they will learn how to do that. They are free spirits and may look like it's not touching them but it is."

Whitney's No. 1 suggestion: Accept however they choose to process it. Everyone loves, loses and grieves differently. "Maybe they want to talk, maybe they don't want to talk; maybe they want to spend time with you, maybe they don't. Some like to go out to eat, some don't. You might want to go to a family gathering if you're invited. Or not. Remember just being invited is a gift."

Pace yourself through the holiday season. Grief is something that can surface any time, no matter how long it's been since the loved one died. "There's no right or wrong, no time frame. For some people it takes a very long time. You're never the same, it takes a long time," Whitney said. The road to healing is long and sometimes takes difficult turns.

"If you're concerned that a person is a risk to themselves, get help," Whitney stressed. "One of the things that happens during the holidays is loneliness. In the groups you can make new friends and break that cycle of loneliness.

"We basically walk with them, we don't fix them. It's always easier when you have someone walking with you," she said. For more information call Walla Walla Community Hospice at 509-525-5561.

Contact Karlene Ponti at 526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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