Holiday on Hospice: Celebrating Christmas at the End of Life
It’s been found that a whopping 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, and rightfully so: it’s one of the few times every year where friends and family come together to enjoy each other and celebrate life.
For the approximately 1.5 million families with a loved one on hospice care, the grief and responsibility of hospice care can greatly diminish the usual holiday cheer.
It doesn’t have to, though. Just because this person is at the end of their life doesn’t mean that you can’t help make them comfortable and share an unforgettable Christmas together.
Whether they’re at home or in an assisted living facility, there are several ways to make this holiday season special. Here are some tips for celebrating Christmas at the end of life.
If you’re celebrating in your loved one’s assisted living facility:
- Don’t forget to decorate! Some facilities may decorate their lobbies and facilities for the holidays, but there’s nothing like favorite Christmas lights and sweaters from home to make your loved one’s personal space feel like Santa’s coming.
- Cook for comfort. Some of the best holiday memories and traditions are those that involve food. Ask your loved one if they have a favorite Christmas dish. It could be a dessert from their childhood or a recipe they prepared for their own kids. Make their day extra special by preparing it for them or some variation to suit their appetite and taste buds.
- Celebrate the service. If a religious Christmas service is an important part of your loved one’s celebrations, perhaps you can celebrate the mass with them by attending the worship at the facility. If your loved one prefers to stay in bed, try rehearsing a psalm or reading from the Bible together.
If you’re celebrating with a loved one on home hospice care:
- Avoid overstimulation. Remember that your loved one might not be able to keep up with the pace of your regular celebrations. Make sure they aren’t overwhelmed by people who would like to see them, especially since a break in routine can be upsetting for dementia patients.
- Prepare for guests. If you’re having lots of visitors over to open presents and share memories, remember to ensure that decorations, accommodations and activities don’t interfere with the space, equipment or care that are necessary for your loved one.
- Honor traditions. Do your best to honor your loved one’s favorite Christmas traditions. Ask them how they would like you to incorporate their favorite Christmas songs, movies and rituals.
If you’re celebrating without your loved one and having a difficult time:
- Send the Season's Spirit. Sometimes it might just be logistically impossible to spend the holiday with your loved one, especially if travel arrangements and medical needs complicate matters. If that’s the case, check with your loved one’s care providers to determine the best way for them to receive mail, and send along a holiday card, care package or perhaps a Christmas stocking.
Because Christmas is a special time to spend with family and friends, losing a loved one can make it difficult to celebrate. When the Christmas season reminds you of those you’ve lost in the past, remember there are healthy ways to cope with grief. Let your holiday celebrations be a time to share favorite stories and honor your loved one’s memory.
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