from the Big Bend Hospice Bereavement Department

The holiday season can be a wonderful time for many. It can also be stressful and demanding. This can be especially true if you have experienced the death of a loved one or if you or a loved one is struggling with declining health. Maybe you feel like the season and the expectations are overwhelming and you cannot possibly do even one thing. Perhaps your loved one has difficulty swallowing and can no longer enjoy a traditional dinner. How do you navigate those feelings, physical changes, expectations, or absences?

Begin by thinking about how you are affected.

Is there a discrepancy between your expectations and what is happening? Do you expect that things should stay the same and the reality is that some things have changed? Can you modify traditions and still meet expectations? Think about what is ultimately important to you and your loved ones. Is simply being together enough, or do you feel like you need to maintain traditions at all costs?

Are you feeling pressure to act happy and to focus on the “good things in your life” even though you feel like bad things are happening? Sometimes people will encourage you to do things as usual because they cannot acknowledge certain changes and are hoping that by keeping things the same you will feel better.

Are you struggling with the who, what, where, and how of the holidays? Are you trying to decide if you should go somewhere else? Who will be there? Is it at a place where you and your loved one will be comfortable? How would you get there, and would you be able to leave if needed?

Now let’s consider how you can help yourself and your loved ones cope with the holiday season when someone has died, or someone has had changes in their health that affect their abilities to do the things they used to do.

  • Choose what you want to do, with whom you want to do it, and how involved you want it to be.
  • Keep or change traditions as you feel comfortable. For some, making changes helps to ease the pain of the holiday season. It is, however, perfectly fine to keep your traditions.
  • Communicate your decisions to others who might be involved. Accept (or tolerate) help when it is offered and do not be hesitant to ask for help when you need it.
  • Make sure to take care of your basic needs. Maintain a healthy diet, get some exercise, and try to get enough sleep.
  • Express your emotions as needed with someone you trust. Say what you need to say and move on with what you have chosen to do.
  • Recognize that holidays can be hard even when life is going well. Holidays can be much harder when you have experienced a death, or you are dealing with changes in your own or a loved one’s abilities and health.
  • Try to be okay with conflicting emotions. You may be glad that you have opted to make some changes to your traditions, and you may be sad that you are not doing things as you have always done them. This is a normal, human reaction.
  • Plan rituals. Have an intention in mind. For example, have everyone who will be participating write down a favorite memory about a person who has died or is faced with exigent health issues. Those memories can be written down and shared or presented verbally at a specific time during the holiday season.
  • Seek gratitude.

The holiday season can be a challenge, yet you can create a special, meaningful time by making choices that suit you, talking about those choices with others who are affected, and, sometimes, compromise with them so that the other person can have their needs met as well. If being happy at this time is not a possibility for you, you can still make it a time of meaning, perhaps peace, and, hopefully, low stress.

BBH’s Bereavement Services are committed to providing counseling and support to anyone in our community grieving the loss of a loved one. We offer both individual and group counseling services. Throughout the year our Bereavement team hosts holiday services, remembrance ceremonies, and youth support activities.

If you would like to speak with one of our Big Bend Hospice Bereavement Team members, please call (850) 878-5310 or reach out to us at