In all our holiday excitement, we sometimes forget that there are some around us who would rather not celebrate because someone they love is seriously ill or has passed away.
For them, grief can outweigh the holiday cheer. “Some of the other feelings might come as a surprise,” says Cara Fox of The Christi Center, a local nonprofit that helps families and friends through grief after the loss of a loved one, “including anger, confusion, anxiety, and a need to distance yourself from others. All of these feeling can be magnified when one is grieving, particularly during the holidays when you are ‘supposed’ to be celebrating with your friends and family.”
The sadness and stress of living with the serious illness of a family member can overwhelm the holiday spirit. And when you’re a young person or child, these disconcerting feelings can lead to confusion.
“When a parent is ill, children may feel sad, confused and angry,” says Meredith Cooper of Wonders & Worries, another local nonprofit, but this one focusing on children with family members who are seriously ill or dying. “They can feel guilty, feeling that in some way the illness is their fault. Children of all ages are also very perceptive and may try to protect their parent from additional stress and worry by holding their own feelings in. These feelings can be exasperated over the holidays when treatment schedules, limited energy and finances may interfere with traditional family holiday activities that have occurred in the past.”
Thankfully, there are a few nonprofit organizations in Central Texas that offer grief support at almost no cost to local clients. Each of them relies on your donations and volunteering to serve the growing client base, but also… consider what you can do to help someone you know get through the holidays. See their suggestions for helping the people you know, below.
The Christi Center – The Christi Center offers 23 loss-specific grief support groups a month for children, teens and adults. During the holidays, it continues to offer weekly support group meetings, but it adds some special events to provide a strong sense of community and healing. For the Kids Who Kare groups, it takes a trip to Northwind Farms to enjoy a day celebrating the holidays with the mini horses and it also holds an annual holiday party full of celebrating with the Christi Center family while listening to music, making gingerbread houses and other holiday treasures.
Says Fox of Christi Center, “We offer all of these additional services through the holidays to help remind grieving adults and children that they can find hope and healing even in this difficult time of year.”
HELPFUL INFORMATION: See their latest tip sheet for coping through the holidays and their Holiday Bill of Rights, which offers things like “You have the right to not be joyful every single moment or day of the holiday season.” Also, check out the November 13 event, “Grief During the Holidays“, offered to anyone who might be working through a loss.
HOW TO HELP CHRISTI CENTER: Volunteers are needed to maintain The Healing Garden, provide a meal once a month to the Kids Who Kare group, or help around the center with miscellaneous maintenance tasks.
HOW TO HELP OTHERS: To help someone grieving, the Christi Center’s Fox says, “The main thing that people can do to help each other – whether grieving with family members or supporting those who are grieving – is to remember that everyone grieves differently and needs unconditional support during this time. Try to be sensitive to what others seem to need – space, attention, talking, listening, a warm and since hug, etc. And when in doubt – ask them how you can be supportive and what they need. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge their loss or say the loved one’s name-it tells a grieving person that you remember their loved one and want to support them. There is no one ‘right’ way or time frame for grief – it is unique and looks different for each individual. Be willing to both ask for what you need and give it in return. ”
Hospice Austin – Hospice Austin has been providing end-of-life care for more than 35 years. In addition to those services, it also offers community education events as well as speakers who can come to your event and discuss compassion in grief and loss.
HELPFUL INFORMATION: Consider the resources it offers for caregivers and children who have experienced a loss. In December, look for Hospice Austin to host “Surviving the Holidays” to help those who are grieving the death of someone they love.
HOW TO HELP HOSPICE AUSTIN: Volunteers can offer bereavement support or office support, but all must go through a multi-session training.
HOW TO HELP OTHERS: And to help a friend of loved-on through a loss, says Marble, “Friends can make an effort to include them in their celebration, call them up to see if they want to get together for dinner or a movie during the holidays, offer to help them shop or do the shopping for them, brings meals, and talk about the loved one who died instead of avoiding the subject. It’s important not to say, ‘Call me if you need anything,’ because most people won’t. It’s better to offer something concrete, like going to the grocery store or taking the kids out for some fun activity.
“It’s important for family members to set realistic expectations for the holidays. Maybe mom won’t feel like cooking this year or celebrating at all after losing her husband. The family can decide beforehand what kind of celebration to have.”
Wonders & Worries – An organization of child life specialists who serve children ages 2 -18 years old who have a parent or caregiver with a serious illness. W&W works with children and their families to provide an age-appropriate understanding of the illness, its treatment and side effects, and to help children and teens cope with the stress and fear related to illness in the family.
Wonders & Worries partners with parents to support their children. Parents are the experts regarding their children, and our team’s goal is to help children understand and cope positively with a family member’s illness. All Wonders & Worries’ services are offered free of charge in English and Spanish.
HOW TO HELP OTHERS: Cooper of Wonders & Worries says, “Encourage parents to communicate openly with their children about the holiday traditions that each member of the family enjoys and try to allow each person to pick one thing that they family can do during the holidays. The healing power of giving and appreciating even in the midst of illness and death is a theme Wonders & Worries focuses on and encourages our families to strive to accomplish.
“A third of our families experience the death of a parent – and we encourage families to honor that person who is no longer physically present but still very much a part of the family as well at this time of year. We offer suggests on how to do this too. One of my favorite is to create an advent calendar or a stocking. Have the child or the whole family write down memories of their loved one or traditions that they loved on slips of paper and put them in the stocking or advent calendar pockets. The family takes turns opening each day or pulling them out during family gatherings and sharing memories or stories. This can be modified for families with an ill parent, putting in wishes for the ill loved one, or the activities they would like to do as a family. You can see how this later way of doing this activity plays into the tip I gave – communicating about the holidays with your child and focusing on the traditions that you CAN do as a family.”
The Austin Center for Grief and Loss – Founded in 2007 as My Healing Place, the Austin Center for Grief and Loss was renamed this past August. It focuses on grief and trauma with the mission to assist children and adults as they move from loss to a full life through therapy, support, education, training and consultation. The agency’s mission is to help anyone in need, regardless of their ability to pay.
HOW TO HELP THE CENTER: Volunteers are always needed to be group facilitators or help with fundraising and other administrative tasks. Most volunteers must go through a short training. Learn more here.
HOW TO HELP OTHERS: Watch for a “surviving the holidays” event coming in December. In the meantime, browse its extensive list of links and information for helping others manage grief and loss, and managing it yourself.