Hospice & Palliative Care Resources

Dealing with Grief and the First Thanksgiving

November 1, 2017

Rich, our Communications Director, shares some thoughts about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and loss…
I guess I never fully understood what Thanksgiving was all about until recently.  Looking back at my childhood, most of what I remember involves sitting in hours and hours of traffic on the Parkway heading back and forth from my grandmother’s house in Toms River.

This year, for me personally, it’s different.  This year, I have a son.  Not a day has passed since he was born almost nine months ago that I don’t marvel at my little man.  Every day, I try to tell him how grateful I am that he’s here.  Thanksgiving is taking on a whole new meaning for me…and the list of things I’m thankful for seems endless.

However, working in hospice, I’m forced to remember that for millions across the country, this year’s Thanksgiving is destined to be a painful one.  It will be the first Thanksgiving after a loved one has passed – one of many painful events at which the deceased will be absent during the first year of bereavement: the first family life cycle event, the first major religious or civic holiday, the first birthday or anniversary without the loved one whose presence is keenly missed.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, with Christmas and Chanukah on its heels (and New Year and so on), we remind our families with whom we’ve formed a powerful bond of the comfort and inspiration they can find through our bereavement support services.  

At the Center for Hope Hospice, we have decades of experience helping family members of hospice patients to work through their bereavement and cope with loss during the holidays and other occasions. We know that the pain and sorrow does not end for everyone at any particular time, and that moments of grief can appear without notice and when least expected. It’s one reason we offer bereavement support groups to our families in both our Scotch Plains and Elizabeth locations.

Stages of Grief

People typically go through common stages of grief after losing a loved one, regardless of the circumstances. Grief can show up in many different ways for different people, ranging from anger to regret or guilt to great sadness.

The initial stage of grief involves shock, often exhibited as denial or a sense of numbness which serve as emotional protection against the pain. As the bereaved slowly acknowledge the impact of their loss, they typically move to the next stages. These include bargaining—a preoccupation with how they could have done things better to prevent the loss (even in the case of a terminally ill patient in hospice)—often followed by depression, as the true extent of the loss is keenly felt. Signs of depression may include sleep or appetite disturbances, lack of energy, crying spells, poor concentration, and feelings of isolation or loneliness.

Feelings of powerlessness (over the situation) and abandonment may follow, which can lead to anger—toward the deceased, toward a higher power, or toward others. As the bereaved moves through these stages, acceptance and healing are on the horizon. Our counselors can help people come to terms with their feelings and accept the loss, which is a big step toward healing.

Coping with Grief

Guided by trained grief counselors, our support sessions offer solace and solidarity among friends who are going through similar experiences (even if they are experiencing grief differently). These sessions provide a safe environment for people to express or explore their feelings as they work through the many firsts of that first year without their loved one.

For those of you who are approaching your first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday or other occasion without your loved one to share it, please know that we understand and we are here for you. Our hospice care does not end when your loved one passes. To learn more about the Center for Hope Hospice’s spiritual and bereavement services, contact the Center at (908) 889-7780 or [email protected].