From Rev. Ray Strawser, Memorial Hospice Chaplain
November is National Hospice Month, a time to celebrate and honor the care-giving and caregivers who provide comfort and support at the end of life.
It is an appropriate time of year for such a celebration. Many families feel the sorrow of recent losses as the holidays come around. The loss of a loved one brings a heavy burden of sorrow to bear no matter the time of year. But the burden can get especially heavy through the winter holidays.
Family time and family traditions may bring back family memories made with a loved one who is no longer in the family circle. An empty chair at the Thanksgiving table may have brought out some tears. A familiar voice on Christmas morning will be missing and the celebration just isn’t what it used to be.
Much has been written about grief at the holidays. Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt has much to say on the topic and has helped many people find help and healing through this time of year. He suggests that if you are feeling the sting of loss this time of year you need to know your limits, talk about your grief, be with family, embrace the memories and create new ones that honor your loved one.
Dr. Wolfelt maintains that grief can be healed and even become good, even through the holidays. Easier said than done. The cartoon character Charlie Brown is often heard to say “Good Grief.” Finding good in the midst of grief is no easy task. In fact it can seem impossible. It almost makes no sense. It’s a strange phrase.
Can grief ever be good? Temple University professor Dr. John Raines maintains that grief can be good. He says grief can be a “midwife.” It can help give birth to new things in your life. Like childbirth, it’s not without pain. But if we look for the good in our grief we can learn and grow even as the tears fall.
Several years ago I led the funeral for a hospice patient who died of MS. During her service her husband approached the casket and poured out his heart in a beautiful way, stating that caring for her through her illness and death taught him how to love. Suffering and grief became good for him. It took time.
Daddy Coates from the classic film “Old Yeller” says the key is to look for the good that can take the place of the bad. “When you start lookin’ around for something good to take the place of the bad, as a general rule you can find it.”
Grief counseling and grief support is one of the benefits of accepting Hospice care for a loved one. Memorial Hospice provides 13 months of bereavement support to families through personal counseling, bereavement resources and support groups.
In addition, Memorial Hospice offers a “Life Memories” program. Patients and their families are invited to share their life stories and experiences as part of the end of life journey. Stories of family moments, dating, courtship, school years, genealogy can be discussed, renewed and celebrated. Memories are recorded on video and a DVD is created that can become a family keepsake. Many families find comfort watching the Life Memories DVD together and remembering their loved one’s life story. It helps replace the memory of their dying with the sweeter memories of their living.
I pray that if you are feeling the sting of grief through this holiday season you can find some healing and come to a place, in your time – when its right for you—and look back and say “Good Grief.”
If you want more information you may contact our staff at (989) 725-2299, or visit the Hospice webpage at MemorialHealthcare.org.
Information about hospice in general can be found at The Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Michigan website, www.mihospice.org.