The COVID-19 pandemic changes the way we will be celebrating the holidays this year.
It will be difficult for everyone, but the challenges become even more significant for those facing the end of their life or grieving. Unfortunately, the grief and loss journey continues despite the pandemic and the holidays, so we have found some ways that we hope will make it just a little bit easier.
Some grieving people may welcome the isolation associated with the pandemic restrictions, finding it comforting to be able to grieve in private. However, other people may need to have intimacy and physical support from their loved ones. Hugging, holding hands or even being near someone can be very important to their well-being, making isolation during the holiday season exceptionally difficult. To help ensure you have the comfort you need, we suggest choosing those in your safe bubble carefully. Be sure those allowed in are good for your mental well-being and not someone who may be a bit more challenging to be around at this time. It’s okay to make these decisions because right now, it’s about taking care of yourself.
We find that many people who recently lost a loved one still want to continue their holiday traditions but struggle because of their lack of energy or interest. To help, why not try starting small by putting up a small tree or choosing one outside to decorate. This tree can become a unique memory tree that you can hang special items that had significant meaning to your loved one. If you don’t want to have a tree, it could also be smaller, like a special decoration or ornament that your loved one enjoyed. Keeping it simple will honour your holiday tradition without becoming too overwhelming.
Another way to help you during the grief process is to create a memory box. This special box should have a lid and be a manageable size that you can move around your home. You can decorate the box if you choose. Some people like to decorate it for the season, where others choose to keep it simple. You will want to place some meaningful items in the box, such as letters, cards, photos or anything that holds a special memory. Schedule a designated time each day to spend time with your box and to grieve, then put it away for tomorrow. Scheduling a time to grieve makes your day a bit easier and helps you manage your grief. As you do this, remember, there is no timeline for your grief. We all grieve differently and it’s important to follow what feels right for you.
If you are someone who is facing the end-of-life, consider using this time to talk to your loved ones candidly. Don’t try to protect them from your passing pain. Instead, use this time to talk openly with each other. It’s hard to have an intimate conversation over the phone or facetime, so it’s important to break through the barriers and express your feelings. If it’s too difficult to express yourself this way, ask another family member or hospice volunteer to help you write a letter or make a video to leave behind. The video can be made by joining in a zoom or other facetime applications to record your message. Another option is a new app called ‘Record Now’ that will prompt you through different steps to help you leave your memory behind. Don’t be scared to ask your caregiver or nurse to help you with the technology – ask for help. Leaving a message will be a beautiful family heirloom that you can share with many generations to come, or request that the message stays between you and the designated person you want to have it.
For those who have a loved one who will be passing away, it can be very difficult, especially during this time of so many safety restrictions. Be sure to ask for the facilities to help connect with your loved ones if you can’t be with them physically. Use the gift of technology to your advantage, and if you don’t know how you can find some easy to learn videos on youtube. If that is too difficult, please ask someone to help. When you get the opportunity to talk, get right to the point and by asking if you can have an intimate and open conversation. They most likely want to speak openly but often won’t out of wanting to protect you. Tell them you don’t want to leave anything unsaid between you and that you want to use this time to really connect. Take some time to prepare some questions that you want to ask. You might even ask to record the conversation. Opening a dialogue for someone to express any final feelings is a beautiful gift you can give them at the end of their life.
All you can do is your best during this difficult time. Don’t be hard on yourself. Whatever you decide to do is okay. The best way to honour your loved one is to take care of yourself with love and kindness while caring for your entire self, your heart, mind and body.
Written in collaboration by Leslie Haynes-Hodgins MSW, RSW, CRHS Lead Clinical Counsellor and Louise Daviduck, CRHS Executive Director