Staff Partner, ACS Marco Island
With the holidays upon us, it is an opportunity to gather your loved ones and celebrate the joyous occasions of the season. No matter your traditions or family being big or small, there are so many great memories being made at this time of year. With Thanksgiving somehow already behind us, and our other respective holidays ahead, it can also be a particularly hard time for those who have lost a loved one. Here at the American Cancer Society, we are here for our community through all stages of the cancer journey. We are here to help you through treatment, easing your woes and answering your questions; we are here to celebrate your last chemo treatment, and a cancer-free milestone; and we can also be there for you when someone close has lost their battle to this disease. It is important to cherish moments spent with your loved ones, and it is also important to remember great memories with those who are no longer with us.
Grieving is a very important part of the process, and may be thought of as ongoing. Grieving does not look the same for everyone, and every loss is different. Grieving happens differently depending on your relationship with the person who died, the circumstances of their death, and your own life experiences. No one should feel that they are grieving in the wrong way, because there is no wrong way. It is in fact good to grieve and allow oneself to let a loved one go in order to keep living in a healthy way. Having a difficult relationship with the deceased can make the grieving process more complicated. The deep emotions of loss can come as a surprise, and is not uncommon for many people to experience profound distress, regret, or even guilt. These are all normal parts of healing and adjusting in order to let go. With someone diagnosed with cancer, they are often times ill for an extended period of time. Knowing that someone is terminally ill may cause a response called, anticipatory grief, meaning when someone starts to grieve in the response of the expectation of death. This is also a normal response, and can actually help people complete unfinished business and prepare loved ones for the actual loss; yet, it does not always lessen the pain when they are gone, and many go through the same grieving process after the loss
Although each person may handle loss during the holidays differently, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind: Having a lot of emotional support is vital to helping oneself cope with loss. It can be the key to a person’s recovery and acceptance of what has happened. Particularly during the holidays, it may still be difficult no matter when the loss occurred. Whether it was recently or in past years; remembering good memories, and times shared may be a nice way to include them in your holiday plans. You may decide to keep certain holiday traditions, or create new ones. It is up to you and what you feel is right in your own situation. It can also be helpful to plan in advance who you want to spend your time with during the holidays. Allow yourself to express whatever feelings you’re experiencing, and don’t let anyone tell you how you “should” feel. Remembering to take good care of yourself is important too. Eating well and getting exercise can help improve your mood. Hot baths, moderate napping, and enjoying your favorite foods may also be a comfort. Be engaged in activities that can provide some relief from your feelings of grief, such as a movie, dinner out, reading a book, or getting a massage. You may still work through your grief, yet not directly focus on it all the time. Importantly, you may need to consider finding ways to forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do. It may also help to talk about your loss to others, whether it is to friends, family, or even one of our trained staff at our 24/7 support service, that you may contact by calling 1-800-227-2345.
As important as the grieving process is, it is also imperative to one’s own health to recognize when to seek help. Some may experience more intense loss with severe depression, or grief for extended periods of time without improvement. Please seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of worthlessness or hopelessness, thoughts of death or suicide, inability to perform daily activities, intense guilt, hearing voices or seeing things, continuous nightmares, severe or prolonged anger, breaking ties with friends and family, or extreme weight loss. Some may experience grief for longer than others, but if symptoms like these are persistent with no improvements, you might benefit from seeking professional support.
The information in this article is courtesy of the American Cancer Society website, www.cancer.org. By going to our website, you may find vast amounts of information pertaining to all stages of cancer, and the most recent cancer findings. From all of the staff at the local Marco Island office we wish you a safe and happy holiday with your family and friends.
This is an ongoing series of columns dedicated to informing the Marco Island community about the American Cancer Society, the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health concern by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service. The Marco Island American Cancer Society office is located at 583 Tallwood St., Suite 101 and is open daily from 9 AM-5 PM. For more information about volunteering or any of the events mentioned in this column please contact Sue Olszak or Lisa Honig at 239-642-8800 ext. 3890.