Good Works

Blue Christmas

Programs help the grieving cope with holidays
Holidays can be hard to handle for those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Most people look forward to spending time with friends and family during the holidays, but what happens when a loved one dies close to the holidays or when the holidays trigger residual grief?

Often grief is accentuated by holidays, says Layla Jabboori, a grief counselor for Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. That’s why many people who are grieving experience hypersensitivity to certain things like holiday music or other holiday traditions, and those sensitivities can paralyze a grieving individual, she says.

“In November, I’ll start hearing, ‘I wish I could tear November and December out of the calendar’. Most people want to avoid the holidays if they’re grieving,” Jabboori says.

Jabboori — who has been a grief counselor for 19 years and facilitates grief management workshops at Oakland Centre, an adult day services center run by Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan — says that a holiday family gathering can seem out of sync after the death of a loved one.

“I liken it to a mobile,” she says. “If you have six things hanging from a mobile and you clip a piece off, everything shifts to a new place. That’s how it is after someone dies – everyone is in a new place. People are uncomfortable with that feeling. They want to move toward homeostasis, and they’re not sure how to do it.”

For those who feel unsettled after the death of a parent, child, spouse or loved one or are struggling through grieving, Jabboori and a team of grief counselors and volunteers are available at Oakland Centre throughout the year.

Jabboori hosts two grief workshops during December: Grief Connection is specifically designed to help the loved ones and friends of the recently deceased learn mechanisms for coping with their grief, form a community with others in the grieving process, and share their experiences. Journeys is for children and teens who are experiencing grief and need support through the grieving process. Both December workshops focus on coping with grieving during the holidays. Similar workshops also are offered throughout the year, and all are free of charge.

Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan also will host a Moving Forward white elephant party and potluck in December that is targeted at those who have lost partners and are under 65.

Laura Latiolais, director of development and community relations at Hospice Care, says these workshops and events represent a commitment that stems from a mandate requiring all Medicare-eligible hospice-care facilities to provide grief counseling for families after the death of a loved one. But, Latiolais says, many hospice centers can’t afford to make this commitment so Hospice Care decided to help fill the gap.

“Even though there’s a mandate, there is no direction or funding to help provide it,” Latiolais says. “Our mission is to offer counseling with certified counselors, not just to our patients and their families but to the whole community. These workshops are something that’s unusual for a hospice to offer, but we’re very fortunate because we receive so much support from our local community.”

For Jabboori, providing free grief support to the community isn’t just a part of her job. “This is my life work,” she says. “There’s so much misunderstanding about the grieving process, and I take great satisfaction in helping someone see that what they are going through is normal. It may not be normal for them, but it’s a normal part of the grieving process. These workshops provide a safe place to openly talk about the impact of a death.”

Educating and supporting those who are grieving, says Jabboori, allows them to experience a holiday in a new way or try a new tradition and begin to heal.

“We can’t just tear November and December off the calendar,” she says, “so this is the next best thing.”


Holidays Are Hard for Those Grieving

"In November, I’ll start hearing, ‘I wish I could tear November and December out of the calendar’. Most people want to avoid the holidays if they’re grieving."
—Layla Jabboori