Holidays can be sorrowful for some

Seasonal carols, tinsel-draped trees and jolly Old St. Nick convey a time of merriment and joy, but the holidays can be difficult for those grieving a significant loss.

To help people to cope with their sadness, Gulfside Hospice is offering free holiday grief support workshops on Dec. 7 in Zephyrhills and Dec. 12 in New Port Richey.

Kelly Cavagnetto, a bereavement counselor, will be conducting the sessions, which will last about 90 minutes and will be the same in both places. They aim to provide some strategies to help people trying to navigate what can become an especially challenging emotional time.

“The first holidays after somebody passes, there can be a lot of anxiety about the upcoming holiday,” Cavagnetto said. “There’s a lot of feeling unsure: ‘I don’t want to decorate, but do I have to decorate? Should I decorate?’”

Those who are grieving often worry whether familiar traditions or foods will trigger a greater sense of sadness for them, the counselor said. Someone might say: “I don’t know if I can cook the same meal they enjoyed eating.”

The grief session aims to give those grieving some tools, she said.

“Our main goal is to sort of brace them for that, and help give them some of the coping skills to kind of get through the day,” she said.

It’s a good idea to begin preparing, Cavagnetto said, because “Christmas, Hanukkah — those winter holidays are coming whether we want them to, or not. We can’t really avoid them.”

In her session, she talks about the importance of “self-care.”

Find ways to help reduce stress, she suggested, which can include listening to music, meditating, drawing or other techniques.

It’s a good idea to have a family meeting to talk about expectations and needs, she said.

The meeting can start something like this, she said: “We’ve had some big changes this year. This is how I’m feeling about it. What do you guys expect from me? What do you expect from the season? How can we pull this off? Can we pull this off?

“We really encourage our families to talk it out amongst themselves, because everyone has different expectations and different needs,” the counselor said.

“Maybe if there’s a young child in the home, they expect a tree to go up. But, maybe that’s not something we’re going to do. So, if they can come up to some type of a compromise where they have a small tree in their room, where somehow everyone’s needs are fulfilled, she said.

Consider creating new traditions, Cavagnetto said.

“Sometime we can’t do the same old thing, there’s too much emotion attached to it. So, if your family always cooked at home, and your spouse was a big part of cooking that meal, or your parent was a big part of cooking that meal, it’s OK to think about going out this year,” she said.

Another strategy involves finding a way to memorialize your loved one.

“Maybe there was a special decoration that mom always had to have out on the tree, or displayed somewhere special,” she said.

Or, maybe you want to make a new ornament, or set a place at the table for your loved one, or find another way to honor the loved one’s memory, she said.

Some people light a candle in the loved one’s favorite scent.

“You can even do that year-round, when you’re having a rough day, thinking of them,” she said.

It’s also important to realize that emotional triggers often occur unexpectedly, the counselor added.

For instance, lately she’s been hearing a lot about people being upset about memories popping up on Facebook.

“Those pictures are coming back up for people, and they might not expect them to be there,” she said.

People who are grieving often don’t know if they can handle attending a holiday gathering, Cavagnetto said.

“I tell my clients: ‘Always have an escape plan.’

“If you typically carpooled to a holiday party, maybe this year you want to drive by yourself.

“You always want to able to exit, when you’re ready to exit,” she said.

She also tells them to be aware of their emotional levels.

“It’s OK if you’re only there for 15 minutes, and you get your hellos and your happy holidays in, and make a break for it,” she said.

It’s also important for those who are grieving to identify where they can turn for support, whether it’s a counselor, or family member or friend.

For those wanting to show support to someone who is suffering a loss, it’s a good idea to check with them to be sure they’re OK.

“See if they have any holiday plans. If they say they don’t want to do anything this year, just let them know what you’re doing, and let them know that they’re invited. They might change their mind, day of. Or, they might get to that point where they’re really lonely, and they might need somebody to reach out, so it’s important to know who’s there,” Cavagnetto said.

“People can feel really alone. If it has been a few months, they feel that other people have settled back into their routine and don’t even talk about their loved one anymore, their spouse or their parent, or their child, whoever it was,” she said.

Sometimes, they’ll want to talk about their loved one, other times they won’t, she said. The important thing is to be willing to listen, to talk and to share memories, if they’d like to.

When it comes to grieving a loved one, Cavagnetto said, “there is no cookie-cutter answer.”

Holiday Grief Support Workshops
Where: Gulfside Center for Hospice Care, 5760 Dean Dairy Road, Zephyrhills
When: Dec. 7 at 4 p.m.
Or: Gulfside Bereavement and Community Outreach Center, 6230 Lafayette St., Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.
Both of these sessions will be free, and those attending will talk about techniques to help them cope with their grief during the holidays. Both sessions are expected to last about 90 minutes and will cover the same content.

Information: Call Kelly Cavagnetto at (727) 845-5707.

Published December 6, 2017

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