Dr’s Tips: Ways to Cope With The Loss of a Loved One During the Holidays

For many, the holidays are the time of year when we hope to create new and happy memories while spending quality time with the people we love.  We aim to enjoy the positive feelings the season brings.

For those who have experienced a loss, the holidays may not feel as blissful.  It is the time of year that they miss their loved one the most, and the traditional indicators (decorations, parties, etc.) of the season can cause them to feel sad or alone. These emotions can become increasingly overwhelming, making it difficult to cope with grief.

While everyone handles grief differently, there are practical things they can do to help them cope with a sense of loss during the holidays.  Dr. Gina Basello, Associate Director of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship and Vice Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, advises, “Dealing with the loss of a loved one is challenging and the pain can be overwhelming.  While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with that pain.”  Here are a few of Dr. Basello’s recommendations:

  • Allow yourself to feel- There are various emotions associated with grief. After losing a loved one you may feel, sad, angry or helpless. Don’t feel bad if happy things make you feel unhappy. Whatever your emotions are, recognize them and accept them as part of your grieving process.
  • Express how you feel- Acknowledging your emotions is a great first step. Now that you have identified how you feel, you should express those feelings. Talking to a friend, family member or a trusted health professional is helpful.  Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for their support; they can help with your healing process.
  • Take care of yourself- Now is the time that you should be most in touch with your mental and physical health. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression for prolonged periods of time, seek help right away from loved ones or a mental health professional.  Staying on top of your physical health can also help you through this time; exercise, eat a healthy diet and get adequate amounts of sleep.
  • Create new traditions –Creating new traditions in memory of loved ones can help you stay positive and can provide opportunities to find meaningful ways to remember those you have lost.

The holidays can certainly be a difficult after experiencing a loss.  Paying attention to the way you feel and applying these positive approaches to coping can help you through the season.  However, if you continue to feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to seek the assistance of a professional who is trained to help during your time of bereavement.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

Planning End of Life Care

Planning for end of life is difficult but also necessary.  Taking the time to prepare for this stage of life can help you and loved ones with making challenging decisions about your care that may arise in the future.

When planning your end-of-life care it is important to consider what your wishes are and how they should be carried out.  Your wishes typically reflect your personal concerns, values or beliefs.  A few questions to ponder during this process are:

  • How will religious or spiritual beliefs be honored?
  • If possible, would you rather last moments to be at your home?
  • How do you feel about life-prolonging measures, such as resuscitation, ventilators or life support?

Once you have come up with a plan of care, it is recommended that you write instructions or advance directives in a document to record your end -of-life wishes and provide guidance for loved ones.

Choosing a family member or loved one to be your healthcare proxy is usually the next step in planning your end-of-life care.   It is important that you communicate to them your wishes so that they can make desired decisions on your behalf. These requirements should also be shared with your physician or medical team.

If you are unable to designate a person to carry out your wishes, you can give specific instructions by writing a living will. According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH Senior Health), “A living will records your end-of-life care wishes in case you are no longer able to speak for yourself. It spells out what life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want if you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious, or in the final stage of a fatal illness. You may wish to meet with your health care provider before preparing a living will to discuss treatment options for a variety of medical situations.”

To receive further information about planning end –of-life care, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Palliative Care Division recommends utilizing comprehensive resources such as The Conversation Project.  The organization provides a starter kit, “as a useful tool to help people have conversations with their family members or other loved ones about their wishes regarding end-of-life care.”  For more information, visit www.theconversationproject.org.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

Helping Your Children Cope With Loss

Coping with the loss of a loved one is difficult for most adults, so imagine how hard the process must be for children. How do we explain death and help them get through it?

ThinkstockPhotos-454209227How much a child understands about death and how they grieve depends on a number of factors including their age, stage of development, life experiences, temperament and personality. While recognizing that an individualized approach to helping children with the grieving process, here is some general information about how children of different ages process death.

• Young children, ages 5-6 years old have a hard time comprehending death. They only understand the world in literal terms. Try to keep explanations very simple and avoid euphemisms, such as the deceased loved one “went away” or “is sleeping” as it might confuse or scare them.

• After age six and up until approximately age ten, kids begin to grasp the finality of death, even if they don’t realize it’s natural for every living thing to die at some point. They also might not understand why death occurs and may think that they have some control over it. At this age, it is best to provide children with accurate and honest explanations.

• As children become teenagers, they begin to understand that all life ultimately comes to an end and there is no avoiding it. At this point they begin to have questions about their own mortality and vulnerability. The best thing to do as a parent is to encourage them to grieve and express their feelings.

Regardless of how old they are, there are a few suggestions that all parents should follow when trying to help a child deal with loss. Experts urge parents to be honest and encourage questions, even if they don’t have all the answers. Create an atmosphere of comfort and openness and send a message that there is no right or wrong way to feel. If you have spiritual beliefs, it is okay to share them with your child as well.

The choice of whether or not to have your child attend a funeral or memorial service is a personal one. If you do allow them to attend, explain beforehand what they will encounter. Share information on religious customs that might be practiced at a service as well. Many parents worry about exposing their children to their own emotional grief, but permitting them to see you in pain shows them that crying is a natural reaction to pain and loss.

While most children do not grieve in the same manner as adults, it is important for parents to watch for signs that a child needs help coping with loss. If your child’s behavior changes radically, seek help. Doctors, guidance counselors, and mental health professionals can all provide assistance. You can also research books and websites for additional tips to help your child manage their grief.

Jamaica Hospital offers a comprehensive Palliative Care Service that assists patients and their families, including children, by providing psychological support and bereavement counseling. For more information, please call 718-206-6919.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.