“It’s Okay to Cry at Christmas,” Dealing With Grief Through The Holidays

The holidays are upon us, and while many people are celebrating the sights and sounds and songs of the season, there are others with whom these holidays do not happily resonate. It could be that way for any number of reasons; maybe somebody close to them passed away recently. Perhaps they’re in the midst of a divorce or their depression and anxiety has left them hopeless, just trying to make it through the holidays. 

For these reasons and countless others, the holidays might not be a happy time for people. But if a person is mourning and grieving the loss of a loved one, that’s where Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions comes in.

“People who are grieving struggle more throughout the holidays,” said Todd Von Gunten, the Grief Care Coordinator with Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions. “These are family holidays or gathering holidays where traditions are involved, where certain meals or activities are repeated ritually, on a regular basis. If one person were to have died and is not present at the events, it is readily noticed. Sometimes people don’t know what to do if that person had a particular role that was specific to them, and it just isn’t going to be the same without them.” 

Of course, when somebody has passed away, when a family member is missing during a holiday, it just doesn’t feel the same. 

 “What happens to a grieving person in these three months is also environmental,” Von Gunten said. “The public activity on the streets and in stores is amplified. So it becomes very difficult to move about. A grieving person can become highly overstimulated. Sounds, sights, touch, smell – all of that becomes very difficult. Being around large groups of people is a difficult thing for them.”

The problem is that Christmas, especially, is supposed to be a time for cheer. For many people, however, it’s the exact opposite. 

“It’s the sights and sounds of the holiday, where people are saying ‘Be of good cheer,’ ‘Peace on earth,’ or that ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year;’ but for a grieving person, it’s not,” Von Gunten said. “They can’t just come out and be joyous and be actively involved with the traditions. And that’s okay.”

Von Gunten offered a variety of tips for those dealing with grief and for those who are close to the grieving person. If a family member has passed, Von Gunten suggested still keeping a place for them at the table, maybe with a candle representing the person. Possibly, during Thanksgiving, a family can go around saying what they were thankful about when it comes to the person who is no longer there. 

“Sometimes, what we talk about in our grief group, is that it’s good to maybe sit down before the holidays and make a plan,” Von Gunten stated. “Death is the ultimate loss of control. Even if you knew it was coming, you couldn’t stop it from happening. Control is a helpful thing; it’s something that people who are grieving kind of yearn for and need. So if you can plan what’s going to happen during the holidays, that could be helpful.”

That plan, Von Gunten said, could consist of as much, or as little, as one would want. 

“Be gentle with yourself,” he said. “Whether it comes to cooking, or decorating the house, or wrapping presents, maybe you just say that you don’t have the energy for that this year; maybe we can pick it up again next year. And that’s okay. Maybe instead of one person cooking the big holiday meal, maybe it can be more of a potluck and everybody brings one dish. It’s also important to recognize that these kinds of things can bring about tears and laughter and multiple emotions all at once. And that’s okay. It’s okay to cry at Christmas. In fact, it’s healthy to be able to release whatever emotion you have. Any emotion is valid and real because we’re human. It is okay to laugh and smile during this time as well. You’re not betraying your loved one because you’re feeling okay. If you laugh at something or smile at something and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, I should be sad,’’ it’s okay! Whatever emotion you have – if you remember them and you love them, it’s okay.” 

It’s okay. Maybe that’s the message that needs to be spread more than anything when somebody is grieving. It’s okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to laugh and smile or cry and it’s okay to not want to be around anybody this year. All of those things are okay, and they’re valid. They are okay. You are okay. 

It’s also okay if you don’t know how to comfort a grieving person. What works for somebody may not work for somebody else. Sometimes people want to talk; sometimes they just want to listen. Other times, they just want to sit in silence with somebody that they care about. But Von Gunten does have some tips about how to be a ‘Grief Support Person,’ as he put it. 

“The first thing you need to be is somebody who always wants to listen,” he stated. “The grieving person needs to talk about their loved one as much as they need to, and a support person always, always, always, wants to hear about the person who died. They will also always, always, always accept the grieving person where they’re at. A grieving person is often overwhelmed by emotion and they also struggle with exaggerated emotions. They might be a little more irritable than usual at times, and they don’t always recognize that. They’re just overwhelmed. And so, a Grief Support Person will always accept them where they’re at, listen to them, and they won’t try to fix them. That’s the big thing. Just be present.” 

Sometimes, just being present is the greatest gift you could give to somebody, especially during the holidays. Just being around. Just being able to offer an ear, or a shoulder, or a hand to hold. But it’s important to do so on the grieving person’s terms. 

The greatest gift you can give to somebody who is dealing with grief through the holidays, is to remind them that they are not alone; that they don’t have to grieve by themselves. 

Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions will begin offering Grief Support meetings for six weeks, beginning in mid-January. For more information on these groups, or to learn more about grief and how to handle it, visit the Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions Services page.

A Place of Refuge: What You Don’t Know About Hospice Care

It’s derived from the Latin word meaning “hospitality” or “a place of refuge”, but most people upon hearing the word “hospice”, tend to cringe as if the word is itself a diagnosis of death. They often believe that “hospice” is a place, the nice Hospice Homes near the hospital where people go for the last few days of their life. The fact is, hospice is not a place, it’s a philosophy of care and a specialized field of medicine.

“Let’s be honest, it’s hard to talk about death,” says Susan Burk, the Community Liaison at Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. “When a patient and family hear ‘hospice’, there’s often already fear in their hearts. Hospice is not about death. It’s about life…having the best quality of life in the time that is given to you.”

At Central Wyoming Hospice, their team companions not only the patient but the entire family through the end-of-life journey, as their mission states, “with skill and compassion”. They work to make that journey what the patient wants, providing a plan and a path forward. Hospice patient-directed care prioritizes comfort, quality of life, and individual wishes and includes addressing physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, a good time to address the many myths and misconceptions about what Hospice is and isn’t.

  • Hospice is not a place. At CWHT, most patients are in their own homes, whether it be their residence in town, out at their ranch, or in an assisted living or nursing home facility. Their Chapman and Kloefkorn Hospice Homes are available to those who need that specialized level of care.
  • Choosing hospice care does not mean you’re giving up; rather, it’s a shift in the way you’re approaching your medical care. If you or your loved one no longer wants treatment or it’s not working, Hospice provides a way to live the rest of your days in comfort, peace, and dignity. It’s not about giving up, it’s about improving quality of life surrounded by family, in the comfort of your home.
  • Choosing hospice doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. You can leave a hospice program at any time for any reason without penalty. You can also restart hospice services at any time if you are medically eligible.
  • Hospice does not hasten death, neither does it prolong life. In fact, some studies show that hospice patients with certain illnesses may live longer with hospice care than those who choose another path. Again, the goal is to make the quality of the patient’s life the best it can be in their last months, weeks, and days.
  • Hospice will not take away all your medications. Your hospice nurse will go over your medications with you and your family to decide what you need to stay comfortable. Other medicines may be added to keep you relaxed and free of pain.
  • You don’t have to give up your doctor if you choose hospice care. Our team of nurses will work with your doctor to be sure you get the best quality of care.
  • There’s no time limit for hospice services. Although a doctor must decide that you have a six-month prognosis to receive hospice care, patients aren’t discharged after that time. There’s a recertification process. Many Central Wyoming Hospice patients have been with them much longer than six months, some even years.
  • A conversation is not a commitment, and the Care Coordination Team at CWHT is happy to answer any questions you may have.

“Having that conversation can be a powerful thing,” says Burk. “It’s not a a commitment for you, but it is a commitment for us to make sure everyone in our community has access to, and knowledge of, this unique care.”

Karen’s Masterpieces

Karen hasn’t asked for much in her stay in the Kloefkorn Home…diced tomatoes and melted butter with salt and pepper, sliced pepperoni, maybe a ride around town. When asked if there was something that our staff could do for her, she said she would love to have her art supplies.

This started the conversation…

Karen painted several oil paintings in her later life, teaching herself via Bob Ross tutorials. She proudly shared photos of her beautiful creations. Many of them reflected the gorgeous colors that are a mainstay in Wyoming, thanks to our mountain ranges, rivers, sunrises, and sunsets. Karen even painted on a mini-easel – only slightly larger than a thumbprint – a dare from a family member. “She didn’t think I could do it”, as she offered proof of the accomplishment.

And this started the mission…

A call was placed to local art supply shop Goedicke’s. Within 45 minutes, Cameron called back to say a bag of supplies would be ready the next morning, thanks to the generosity of owner Claire Marlow.

Karen was grateful for the surprise and quickly got to work, planning her next creation. We look forward to seeing Karen’s next masterpiece!

Karen with her new art supplies

Working Nights at Central Wyoming Hospice

Nurse Courtney with patient

“There are two major reasons enjoy working as a night nurse at Central Wyoming Hospice:   

The first is that because it is usually a little slower, I get to interact more with patients and their families, giving them a little more one on one attention.  The second reason is that I get to work closely with the awesome aides we have. We work hand in hand throughout the night to get things done. There is just great teamwork, collaboration, and support between the staff that works at night.”

– Courtney, RN

Up, Up, and Away!

Gene wanted to fly, so our Transitions Coordinator Kristeen set out to make her an “Honorary Kid” for the day, and make her wish come true. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. We hope you enjoyed the view from Humpty Dumpty, Gene!

My Long Story Short

by: Veteran Volunteer & Board Member, Tom Noonan

I was recruited by a fellow Vietnam Veteran to help Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions with a program honoring all veterans called “We Honor Veterans”. The program includes, among other things, an elaborate ceremony usually performed with the family present. The ceremony starts with a declaration of thanks along with the presentation of a pin stating “We Honor Vets”. Then a red, white, and blue blanket crocheted by our volunteers is given to the veteran along with a challenge coin from the United States Senate. Also presented is a small U.S. flag to be hung on the veteran’s door and a star cut from a retired flag with this saying attached: “I have flown over our homeland in the U.S.A. I can no longer fly, for the wind and rain have caused me to be tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that VETERANS LIKE YOU HAVE KEPT OUR HOMELAND FREE. YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.” The last part of the ceremony involves a final salute from all of the veterans present. This can be a very emotional time as the honoree and those present realize this is the
final salute.

I really appreciate the opportunity to have this privilege in honoring my fellow veterans one last time. This is the end of my story. Please volunteer at Hospice in any capacity and write your own story.

Meet Sam

Meet Sam, there are a few things we can guarantee about this ol’ cowboy. He will call you “Sweetheart”, and yes…he would appreciate a bit more coffee with cream and sugar.

One of Sam’s happy places was a local watering hole and when he could no longer go to the bar, we brought the bar to him. Staff used their creativity to go above and beyond to keep him safe and content. We like to stop by “Sam’s Place” for some good company and to chat about the weather, his horses, and his time in the Navy…and maybe load him up on some “bar snacks”.

“They took care of everything so we could focus on Dad.”

“The final days are so difficult. There are so many things you aren’t prepared for or don’t know about. The emotional piece is draining. We were so grateful for Central Wyoming Hospice, who was there for our Dad to help us with the final days. They took care of everything so we could focus on Dad. We cannot say enough about the amazing, supportive and caring staff! Thank you Hospice, for being such an important part of
our community.”

– Senator Bill and Robyn Landen

True Comfort in Loss

“My family is pragmatic about end-of-life issues. But no matter how you feel about those issues, as a family member’s death approaches, things seem to shift, perhaps unexpected emotions enter the picture, and the path is not always as straight forward as one may
have thought.

Our family has found a certain strength in the services provided by Central Wyoming Hospice. The care they have offered our loved ones is not care we could necessarily give them. That is a true comfort. The respect they give to individual family and friends is validating and calming. The depth of their knowledge is more than a little helpful and has helped guide our family through some inevitable confusion. Yet somehow, they don’t interfere. They are quietly competent, and not bossy or uncomfortably
‘in charge.’

I truly appreciate those facts.  

It’s true. You do meet an angel or two throughout your life. Some of them work at Central
Wyoming Hospice.”  

– Dale Bohren

In Sheldon’s Words

My first contact with Central Wyoming Hospice was a phone conversation informing me that it was time to consider moving my dad from assisted care to hospice care; this came as a bit of a shock to me, and it was really helpful that the person who called was patient and kind and answered all of my questions… and also informed me of things I didn’t know to ask.

With my approval the move was made right away. 

I had to travel some distance to get to Casper to be with Dad; once there, I could see that he was being treated with care and dignity by the
CWHT staff.

Dad passed away in the Kloefkorn Hospice Home less than 48 hours after the move. I was able to be there with him those last few hours, along with my wife, my daughter, my aunt (Dad’s sister), and two absolutely amazing, caring, gracious CWHT staff, Chris and Sarah.

It seemed to me from the time I arrived that Dad did not have much time left, but certainly I don’t know much about these things. Both Chris and Sarah were present, attentive, and kind in answering our questions and keeping us informed as Dad’s time grew shorter.

Once the time had come, Chris and Sarah were so gracious and caring… I could not have imagined feeling so much support, and I was – and continue to be – really grateful for these two.

A clergy person was called and came in on short notice to support us with prayers and caring.

I am very grateful to – and for – the CWHT folks. Dad’s passing, while certainly a tough and emotional event, was different and somehow better because of the caring and capable folks at Central Wyoming Hospice.

– Sheldon Wood Jr.

If you or a loved one would benefit from hospice services, please call us at 307-577-4832. It is our honor to support you through this journey.

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