Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Flip Side of the Holidays

I know this was a tough time for a lot of people.   People have a tendency to become reflective around this time of year.   The holidays are surrounded with many memories – favorite holiday as a child, favorite toy, favorite tradition and favorite food.  But it’s also surrounded with the knowledge that as we grow up, we change – our traditions change, our lives change, and many of these memories become faded or are lost completely.  So the holidays become a time where there is happiness, mixed with tinges of sadness as well.  This can be felt even more so if you have lost someone you loved very much.  People also have a tendency to become reflective around the New Year.  People think back upon the last year and the changes that have happened, the good and the bad.  They then turn toward the future and begin to reflect on what the New Year will bring, what hopes, changes and goals will they try to achieve in the upcoming year. 


It’s very easy to become lost in your thoughts and depression, to think thoughts such as “what’s the point?”, “why did this happen?”, and “how did this happen?”  These are age old questions that I believe have never been answered and probably will never be answered.  It’s called “LIFE.”  If you are reading this post, then you are alive and living.  As long as you are alive and living, you will continue to grow and change.  You will continue to collect memories, good and bad.  You will continue to collect life experiences, good and bad.  You have a choice in how you want to live your life.  If we don’t have the power to change the outcomes of events, if we don’t have the power to get the answers to life’s age-old questions, we have no other choice but to go on living and hoping for the best.  It’s what you decide to do with your life that counts.  Will you focus on the negative aspects of a life you can’t control?  Or will you focus on living each and every day to the best of your ability?  One never knows what is waiting just around the corner, what surprises are in store for us.  Live each moment as if it might be your last.  Be with your loved ones as if that moment with them could be the last.  Try to live with no regrets and no guilt. 


I know – easier said than done – but you do have the choice. 

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's That Time of Year!

The holidays can be an especially painful time of year for people who are grieving.  There are some radio stations that switch their format to Christmas music 24/7 the day after Thanksgiving.  The stores seem to have Christmas decorations up at that same time as well.  The mailbox is jam packed with Christmas catalogs, trying to entice people to buy gifts from their store.  In amongst the catalogs are Christmas cards from family and friends, party invitations and final pleas from a variety of places to give a donation before the end of the year.  Everywhere we look, everywhere we turn, we are confronted with festive sights and sounds.  There seems to be no safe haven to escape and grieve in peace. 


The Christmas Waltz has a famous lyric that most people know, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love.  Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas, may your new year’s dreams come true.’”  People who have suffered the loss of a loved one and are grieving may feel they will definitely NOT have a Merry Christmas and their dreams will NOT come true.  They want their loved one back.  That’s the dream they may have.  At any time of the year, people who are grieving try to hide their grief from friends, co-workers and family.  They don’t want people feeling sorry for them, or they don’t want to burden other people with their problems, or they feel if they cry, they might make people uncomfortable.  Now, during the holidays, this can become increasingly difficult to do.  When one is confronted with so much joy and cheer, how can one be a wet blanket and ruin everyone’sfun?  Particularly if joy and cheerare the last things someone might be feeling. 


When we talked about “coping with the holidays”, in an earlier post, some of the suggestions were to try to be gentle with oneself.  We don’t have to accept ALL the holiday gathering invitations.  We don’t have to send out Christmas cards.  Try not to have such high expectations, particularly around this time of year.  If there is a need to cry or be sad – go ahead.  Don’t worry about ruining the holiday spirit for others, they will understand.  Maybe initiate some new traditions.  Perhaps doing something completely different will turn it from the “holiday without a loved one” into the “holiday where we (insert whatever you want).”  My husband, Jack, came up with the example of making this the time of year to go on vacation, or take a trip, as a way of doing something completely different.  Then the holiday season can be spent organizing, planning and preparing for the trip – not dreading spending the holiday without the loved one.  This is by no means a way to say the loved one will be forgotten – we all know that can never be done – but a way to make a new meaning for this time of year.


Many years ago, my mom died in February.  As we entered into our first holiday season without her, it all seemed so sad.  The tradition of the family gathering on Christmas morning would be different.  We had never had a Christmas apart before.  My mom had made, some type of fried dough covered in granulated sugar, and served it one Christmas morning.  This kind of special memory was gone forever, just like she was, therecipe never to be found.  My sister and I had moved out to be on our own, she with her husband and son, and I with Jack (not yet my hubby).  It was only my brother and my dad, waking up in our home by themselves on Christmas morning.   I didn’t know that Jack had other plans.  He knew how much we missed my mom, and he knew how sad that Christmas was going to be without her, so he wanted to create a different memory on that day.  We went to my Dad’s house, as planned, and we started to open presents.  Jack gave me a present and I opened it to find a beautiful, black lacquered, jewelry box.  I was instructed not to open it yet because he had a question for my Dad and my brother.  He then proceeded to ask them both for their permission to marry me.  After their shocked reactions to the affirmative, I opened the box to find my engagement ring.  That change in tradition definitely shifted the tone and the mood of the day.  A new meaning was made, for me and my family, for this time of year. 


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.



Thursday, December 7, 2006

What Do You Want?

Working in hospice and in bereavement, we are faced with the difficult challenges and decisions that people have to make in what is already a very difficult time.  Thinking about our death, or our loved ones' death is not what we want to think about, so we go in denial.  Let's only talk about pleasant things, let's not discuss uncomfortable, sad and depressing things.  What happens if you get diagnosed with a terminal illness?  What happens if a loved one dies unexpectedly?  Often we see families arguing with each other about what the loved one would want.  This is the time that the families should be coming together in support of each other - not fighting.  However, if wishes are not written down or stated, it's a guessing game as to what the loved one wanted.  Same holds true for people who have a terminal illness.  If their wishes are stated before they die, then the time they have left can be spent sharing meaningful moments and memories with family.  One client stated that it took the pressure off of her and the family knowing what their loved one wanted. 

It's human nature to put off what we know we should do, especially it it's something we're not all too jazzed up about doing anyway.  How many times have you thought, "I really need to make a will, or update my  health care proxy."?  How many times have you thought, "I have plenty of time, nothing is going to happen to me.  I'm young, I'm healthy.  I'll do it tomorrow, or next weekend."?  Well, there is an easy way to get this task done.  There is a simple form titled, "Five Wishes" provided by www.agingwithdignity.org, or you can call 1-888-5-WISHES.

There are five parts to the form, or "five wishes", where you are guided to write down your wishes in the event of . . . .

Wish #1 refers to the Health Care Proxy.  This is where you determine who you wish to act on your behalf if you are not able to voice your wishes.  There is also a section where you can "customize" your living will.

Wish #2 pertains to what you want your caregiver to know about the kind of medical treatment you would like in certain situations, such as if you were on life support, close to death, had brain damage, were in a coma or wished to have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

Wish #3 deals with the kind of comfort care you would wish from your caregiver, such as pain control, how to assess your symptoms, whether you wanted a cool cloth to be applied to your forehead, if you wanted to have your lips or mouth moisturized, if you wanted a massage, or music to be played or spiritual passages read while you were close to death.

Wish #4 is for the kind of treatment you want from others while you are near death, such as whether you wanted visitors, do you want to be touched, do you want people to talk to you or pray with/for you, do you want pictures of your loved ones placed around your bed and where you want to die.

Wish #5 tells your loved ones what you want them to know, such as you love them, you have forgiven them, you want them to forgive you, to respect your wishes, that you want them to seek counseling after your death, to make peace with each other, whether you are to be buried or cremated, where do you want your body or cremains to go, who is the designated person who knows your funereal wishes, what do you want said at your service, what kind of songs do you want played, what kind of flowers do you want or any other special requests.  There is an extra space for other wishes, such as whether you want to donate your organs or your body.

I often share my personal wishes with my husband.  I tell him that I don't want a viewing, I want to be cremated, I want a memorial service that plays certain songs and I want it to be like a huge party where people can share their memories and be a huge support to each other.  Since I've been doing this work, he gets used to my rantings and he simply replies, "Well, you better have it written down somewhere if you want me to remember all of that."  Hmmmmm, I better get the "Five Wishes."

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and thecommunity.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.