December 21, 2013

Waterville group offers support for those grieving at the holidays

Hospice Volunteers of the Waterville Area reach out to those who have lost a loved one and are trying to cope.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — While the holidays are a happy time for many people, they can be difficult for those who have lost a loved one.

click image to enlarge

HOLIDAY Help: Mark Jose helps lead a group, “Grief through the holidays,” for Hospice Volunteers of Waterville.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

HOLIDAY Help: Mark Jose helps lead a group, “Grief through the holidays,” for Hospice Volunteers of Waterville.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Tips for coping with grief through the holidays

• Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different and you may not be up to handling the responsibilities you’ve had in the past. Take others up on their offers to help cook, shop and decorate or consider doing more of your shopping by Internet or phone this year.

• Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know if you plan to do things differently this year. Share your memories of your loved one through photos or by telling stories.

• Try to avoid “canceling” the holiday. It is OK to avoid circumstances you don’t want to be in but avoid completely isolating yourself. Allow some time for solitude and grieving, but remember to balance it with planned activities with others.

• Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness or anger and to be able to grieve. It is important to recognize that every family member has a unique experience with grief and may have different needs during the holidays. Feeling joy and laughter do not mean you have forgotten your loved one.

• Draw comfort from doing for others. Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of your loved one. Invite a guest who might otherwise be alone for the holidays or give gifts to a needy family.

• Take care of yourself. Avoid using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate because of your mood. Physical exercise or writing in a journal can be a good outlet for grief.

Source: VISTAS Innovative Hospice Care

Hospice Volunteers of the Waterville Area

More information about Hospice Volunteers of the Waterville Area is available at its website www.hvwa.org and at 873-3615.

This time of year, everyone is expected to be happy and cheerful but that isn’t always the case for those who have lost a loved one either recently or in the past, according to Susan Roy, executive director of Hospice Volunteers of the Waterville Area.

Traditions, including decorating or sharing a special meal, can feel like they are missing something, said Roy.

“You’re thinking, ‘Well, who’s going to do it this year?’ and a lot of people just don’t have the energy to decorate or do anything for the holiday at all,” said Roy.

Watching people who are thankful and celebrating can make someone who is sad or lonely feel overwhelmed, she said.

For the last three years, the hospice volunteers have organized a group, “Grief through the holidays,” that offers support for those who are grieving between Thanksgiving and into January. Mark Jose and Lucie Boucher are leading the group this year.

“There’s a lot of focus particularly during the Christmas season, on families being together, joy and what a wonderful time it is. I think that can make people who are going through a loss more aware of their own pain,” said Jose, 64, who is a bereavement councilor for MaineGeneral Medical Center.

Deb Letourneau, 51, of North Vassalboro, knows firsthand what grieving through the holidays can be like. An administrative assistant at the Hospice Volunteers, she found the organization and eventually her job after attending the grief session two years ago.

In 2008, Letourneau’s 28-year-old daughter Krysta Bearor was struck by lightning and killed just weeks after she was married.

“A storm came up and my grandkids were out playing. She got them in the house but the dog had taken my grandson’s glasses. She went to find them and lightning struck,” said Letourneau. The accident happened just two weeks after Bearor’s marriage and also killed Tony Clarke, a family friend and the best man in Bearor’s wedding, said Letourneau.

“Christmas, birthdays, her wedding anniversary. There’s always some sort of trigger with any holiday because there’s a gap in that family circle,” Letourneau said.

She said she’s always enjoyed Christmas, but since her daughter’s death it has been stressful. Shopping for presents reminds her that she won’t be getting anything for her oldest daughter, she said. She doesn’t decorate as much as she used to, but says she tries more every year to be thankful for what she does have and enjoy the company of the loved ones she does have, she said.

Letourneau found the hospice volunteers after the accident and it has helped her find coping mechanisms, she said.

Enjoying happy memories of her daughter and the loved ones she does have — her husband, other children, grandchildren and friends have helped her get through the grieving process, she said.

“If you start talking to people, you’ll find that many people are dealing with feelings of loss during the holidays,” said Jose, who said that for most people the most important coping mechanism is having someone they can talk to about how they’re feeling and who they’re missing.

There are many paths through grief and everyone has their own methods of coping, but exercise, eating well and resting are important for everyone, said Jose.

Planning how to get through the holidays ahead of time and communicating it to family and friends is also recommended, said Jose.

“If you don’t want to go the family party, say that. If the family has strong feelings about it, maybe you can compromise and just go for a half-hour. For many people it is hard to figure out what you need and communicate that,” said Jose.

Coping also applies to other forms of grief aside from losing a loved one, including divorce or a move that separates families, said Jose.

This year’s grief group is closed to new members because the eight-week session has already started, but the Hospice Volunteers of Waterville as well as Somerset Hospice Volunteers and MaineGeneral Hospice Volunteers of the Kennebec Valley have workshops and get-togethers throughout the year, said Jose.

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 rohm@centralmaine.com
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