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Coping With the Loss of a Loved One Over the Holidays

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By    |   Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 05:21 PM

Christmas is a time for togetherness, but for many families, this year is a season not of celebrating, but of coping, with the absence of a loved one during the holidays.

Age or health-related issues can make it difficult for a parents or grandparents in assisted living from visiting home for celebrations. That can leave families uneasy about the prospect of bringing them home for a day, or the possibility of carrying on celebrations without them.

For seniors suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the holidays can be especially challenging because they may not remember names or faces, or understand the holidays.

“It is so hard to deal with the holidays for ones with Alzheimer’s disease – one who is still there physically, but not mentally,” says Lynette Whiteman, executive director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey.

Whiteman, who is the primary caregiver of her 91-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s, tells Newsmax Health that adapting to the circumstances at hand – and developing new traditions and ways of celebrating – can help families get through the holidays without excluding loved ones.

“You have to create a ‘new normal’ and find ways to survive the season,” she says.

Here are some pointers for those who face such challenges this time of year.

Bring the holidays to them: If mom, dad, grandma or grandpa are in an assisted-living facility and coming home for the holidays is not an option, consider paying them a visit at the nursing home or care facility they reside in.

“If the person is in long-term care, then it’s really thinking about the person and what will work for them,” says Ruth Drew, director of information and support services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “Is it always going to work? Maybe not. But that’s what works now. I think families can look at their situation, and say, ‘What makes sense? What’s doable?’ Give yourself permission to do things different this year.”

Drew suggests to first ask the care facility if it’ll be hosting its own Christmas or holiday celebration; there may be a catered party complete with activities, gift exchanges, and other ways to celebrate waiting to happen.

If not, how you choose to celebrate by visiting a relative depends on their own level of physical, mental, or memory impairment. Celebrating Christmas may mean visiting before or after December 25, or when they’re having a better physical or cognitive day.

“Bring Christmas to them by offering presents, hanging a festive wreath on your loved one's room door, or visiting with your loved one and listening to a CD/cassette of Christmas carols,” says author and caregiver expert Rick Lauber.

Observe holiday traditions: Holiday reminders, like singing along to Christmas songs, perusing family photos, working on a Christmas-themed puzzle, or enjoying a favorite family holiday meal, are brain-healthy activities for Alzheimer’s patients that encourage them to engage better.

But even if they don’t recognize you, their family or their surroundings, don’t despair; they’ll still be happy to spend time together and enjoy the holiday spirit. It’s important to keep this in mind and not look at it as a personal failing, says Dr. Bob Uslander, a home palliative care specialist.

“Even in the case that someone doesn’t recognize all the family members, or is overwhelmed by a large group of visitors, a visit from a loved one doesn’t go unnoticed,” Uslander says. “It can be difficult for those of us who are not experiencing dementia to imagine what it must be like to lose memories of a lifetime or recognition of family. We may even think that because they don’t remember us when they see us, they don’t know who we are or why we’re there. But even family members with later stage dementia can recognize a kind, caring face or presence.”

If it’s not possible to visit a loved one in person, make the effort to connect over the phone, send a greeting card, or, if possible, through video chat, like Skype or FaceTime.

“When visiting, remember to enjoy your moments with them and be in good spirits,”says Kathryn Bennett, a certified dementia practitioner. “People respond to the energy of others and the more joy you can provide to your loved one, the better both of you will feel.”

Stay connected with others: Enduring the holidays without a loved one may be challenging for some people, but staying connected with others is important no matter the circumstances.

Take this as an opportunity to reach out to those less fortunate for the holidays. Stay active; volunteer your time this Christmas at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, delivering meals, or connecting with faith-based organization for people in need. Community support groups are available for seniors or people who struggle to cope with the loss of a spouse during the holidays.

Extending an invitation to neighbors to join you and your family for Christmas dinner not only makes a great gift, but one more way to share the holiday spirit together.

“Being around others who understand what you are going through during the holidays always reassures that person that they are not the only one feeling a loss,” says Ginalisa Monterroso, founder of the Medicaid Advisory Group.

Celebrate a loved one’s life: The holidays are a heightened depressive season, and those mourning the death of a loved one may want to retreat further away from celebrating the season. Time may heal, but feelings of loss can be just as intense and sad years later as they were during the first Christmas without them.

“Even if you lost someone 20 years ago, you’ll feel it more during the holidays,” says Tammy Bugbee, regional wellness director for Lifetime Wellness and StoneGate Senior Living.

Take time to grieve the loss of a family member together. Light a votive candle at church. Plant a tree in that person’s memory. Share memories with each other as family assembles during holiday celebrations.

“The joyful, the painful, whatever comes up,” says Uslander. “Let your loved ones be a part of the celebration through stories and memories, even if they are not physically present.”

© 2018 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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The holidays are a time for togetherness, but for many families the loss of a loved one or health-related issues can make them particularly difficult. But experts say a handful of coping strategies can help to make the season bright, regardless of the circumstances.
holiday, grief, loss, depression, loved, one, bereavement, christmas
Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 05:21 PM
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