Navigating Grief Around Father’s Day with Planning, Support and Connection

People Attending Self Help Therapy Group Meeting In Community Center

In our commercial world, we’re subjected to displays of gifts, candy and cards for weeks ahead of a holiday. With technology today, there are even targeted ads on our phones and social media platforms that show us memories from past celebrations.

For someone struggling with grief, these aren’t always friendly cues to prepare for the holiday. They can be triggering reminders of how a loved one isn’t here anymore.

“We know significant dates like anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can be a challenge for those grieving the loss of an important person in their life,” says Ashley Huisman, a bereavement coordinator with Emmanuel Hospice. “Holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be especially difficult after the loss of a parent.”

Parents are often the first to love and care for all of us. It can be painful mourning that unique relationship with someone who has known you since you came into the world. Around days dedicated to honoring parents, there can be multiple, conflicting emotions.

“You may be angry at the world for celebrating a day that highlights just how much the person you love is missing from the picture, all while wanting to be a part of the laughter and joy around you,” Huisman explains. “Remember it is OK to feel more than one thing at once and none of these feelings are wrong. Give yourself the space to ride the roller coaster of emotions the day may bring.”

Quite often the anticipation of the day can be worse than the day itself. To help prevent anxiety, Huisman recommends making a plan A, B and C – or as many as you need – to find a sense of peace that whatever happens, you’ll be ready.

“Take a good inventory of yourself, your emotions and what you need out of the day,” Huisman says. “Maybe plan A is to be with friends and family, sharing memories and participating in planned activities. Maybe plan B is leaving the gathering early or skipping a part of the day all together because being with others may be a bit overwhelming.”

Acknowledging the day with a remembrance activity is another healthy way to cope.

“It’s common for people to wonder if the holiday should even be celebrated or observed after the loss of a loved one and what that should look like,” Huisman adds. “We invite people to do whatever feels best for their family.

“It’s great if you want to get birthday cake on your dad’s birthday or go out to dad’s favorite restaurant on Father’s Day. It’s healthy to continue finding ways to stay connected with a person we’ve lost.”

After the loss of a loved one, it’s also important to find support in family, friends and sometimes even the help of a professional to navigate what you’re experiencing.

“If possible, find a friend or other supportive person you can talk to honestly about the day,” Huisman says. “Let them know when you are having a hard moment or when you want to share a memory. Remember, you are not alone.”

For more information on coping with grief, Emmanuel Hospice is hosting topical three-session workshops through end of August. Held at 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids, the in-person grief support events are free and open to anyone in the community regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit or hospice care.

The organization also provides individual support to anyone who has suffered a loss. For more information or to RSVP for a workshop or group, email or call 616.719.0919.

Education is Critical to Understanding Hospice Options

A wise philosopher once said, “Education is the ability to meet life’s situations.”

That’s especially applicable to understanding all the options offered by a hospice organization, according to Jennifer Radaz, education manager at Emmanuel Hospice.

“As we make contacts, we’re constantly assessing a person’s educational needs when it comes to hospice,” she says. “One of our main goals is to inform, and help patients and caregivers understand the scope of our services and how we operate.”

Radaz says that often means countering misconceptions about hospice care, including the mistaken notion that you must necessarily be within your last hours or days to receive services

“As a result, we see a lot of late referrals, where people have been ill for some time and were unaware they could have had all of our services a long time beforehand,” Radaz notes. “The longer hospice is able to develop a relationship with a patient and their family, the better we can care and prepare them both for what lies ahead.”

Radaz points to critically ill cardiac patients in particular, noting that heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, and yet those suffering from heart disease typically wait too long to summon hospice for assistance. They sometimes receive only a few days’ care when, in reality, they qualified for hospice and could have taken advantage of hospice services for weeks or even months prior to their deaths.

Another misconception that Emmanuel seeks to address is that a hospice takes over with a plan of their own.

“We do not come in with an agenda,” Radaz explains. “Rather, we’re there to work with family and other caregivers, eager to know what matters to them, and how we can best address their needs. We don’t offer a one-size-fits-all.”

Emmanuel also strives to educate people that their brand of hospice care is funded by Medicare and private donations to support programs, like complementary therapies. This enables Emmanuel to provide core nursing, pain management, grief support and related services, as well as complementary therapies that bring music, massage, art and much more to the bedside.

“We want to approach people on multiple levels for their pain and management,” Radaz says, “and part of that is providing those soothing human touches that aren’t addressed by conventional medicine.”

Educating the public doesn’t stop at patients and caregivers, she emphasizes. Emmanuel, for instance, is constantly seeking ways to make connections with communities of caregivers that includes doctors, nurses and social workers. In fact, much of what they offer in a formal setting will count toward continuing education hours for health professionals.

Additionally, Emmanuel often delivers presentations at businesses, organizations, colleges and universities and professional conferences to promote better understanding of hospice and its benefits. The nonprofit also reaches out to retirement communities and medical facilities, continually exploring new ways to share its mission, philosophy and array of services with those who need it most.

“We believe that information is key,” Radaz explains, “and that it’s wonderful to be informed. We’re happy to provide that information in whatever setting is comfortable for that person. And there’s never any obligation. Sometimes, people aren’t ready to sign on for hospice; they just want to understand their options going forward.

“We’re happy to simply establish a relationship. As changes occur, we can step in, but only when that door is open to us. In the meantime, we’re happy to have those conversations.”

Emmanuel Hospice Can Help You Navigate Grief During The Holidays

You’re hurting. And you’re not alone.

Embracing the above pain can serve as an important step toward reconciling your feelings during the holidays – days that our culture insists should be spent in joyous celebration, but that in truth can provide special challenges to those who have suffered loss.

“Grief can surface especially when the holidays come around, and it can be triggered by a whole host of elements that aren’t usually present in our everyday lives,” says Merrin Bethel, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “It can be tough to manage.”

But not impossible, she emphasizes, especially if you are able to acknowledge the potential for rough roads ahead, and consciously take steps to prepare for grief that tends to get in the way.

Compounding the situation these days is the ongoing pandemic, which can add more layers to the grieving process because of social distancing and the threat of COVID-19 itself.

“We’ve lost routines and a sense of normalcy, and this can be especially traumatic at the holidays,” Bethel says.

So, how does one cope?

“Planning ahead of time is something we really encourage,” Bethel says. “And that means having open and honest conversations with yourself, as well as people in your close circles, including those with whom you might be gathering at holiday celebrations.

“Maybe you’re supposed to show up with a certain dish, or expected to host an event, but you aren’t comfortable being in that role. When you’re dealing with loss, it’s OK to take stock of what you can and cannot do, and then express that to others, explaining that you’d rather do one or two meaningful things instead of everything.”

That takes no small amount of self-compassion, a gift you might need to surround yourself with in order to move forward. For many, that’s an important part of the grieving process, which can be messy and complicated. When you practice self-compassion, you “speak” to yourself as you might to a good friend – being forgiving and supporting, and without judgment.

Is there a chance someone in your circle will bristle at your reluctance or inability to be all-in? Surely, says Bethel. In which case you simply tell the truth gently, “This may sound awkward,” she suggests saying, “and I hope this doesn’t jeopardize our relationship, but this is where I’m at, and I hope you can respect that, same as I respect where you’re at.”

At the holidays especially, sights and sounds and even tastes and smells can send us into a tailspin, and sometimes we just need to walk away, Bethel says.

To those who wonder why you’re bowing out, you might need to acknowledge your vulnerability, and perhaps answer them with: “I’m hurting right now. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m doing my best to cope with some of the things I normally would enjoy during this season.”

Another strategy for coping with grief at the holidays is to turn it inside-out and try channeling your feelings into caring for others. But it’s important that you not suppress your own grief in the process.

“It’s all about being purposeful with the way you navigate your feelings,” Bethel says. “Keep the lines of communication open and be real when it comes to expectations.”

For more information on coping with grief during the holidays, Emmanuel Hospice is hosting several sessions entitled “Handling the Holidays” in the first-floor conference room of 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids:

  • 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Dec. 7
  • 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14
  • 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Jan. 11

The grief support events are free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to wear a face covering and practice physical distancing. Those who are interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to or 616.719.0919.

Emmanuel Hospice to Offer Free ‘Handling the Holidays’ Grief Support Groups

Emmanuel Hospice will host free grief support sessions to help community members cope with grief and loss during the holiday season.

The events are open to anyone in the community regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit organization or hospice care. They are designed to help those who have experienced the death of a loved one continue their grief journey with support during the holidays, a time when so many are celebrating.

“Navigating grief can be challenging at any time, but the added stress of the holidays and the ongoing pandemic can be especially tough to manage,” said Merrin Bethel, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “These free sessions will help individuals who are struggling connect with an understanding community and learn how to manage expectations this season.”

The upcoming “Handling the Holidays” sessions will be held in person on:
Monday, Nov. 22 from 11 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, Dec. 7 from 10:30 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, Dec. 14 from 6-7:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the organization will host a session on planning for the New Year amid loss and grief from 10:30 a.m.-noon.

All the events will take place in the first-floor conference room of the 401 Hall St. SW office building. The entrance is through the southwest corner of the building.

Attendees are asked to wear a face covering and practice physical distancing. Those who are interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to or 616.719.0919.

In addition to leading support groups, Emmanuel Hospice provides support through counseling, education and referrals to community resources to help individuals cope with all stages of grief. The nonprofit makes personal calls, coordinates workshops and shares inspirational materials that give comfort and encouragement. More information is available at

About Emmanuel Hospice
Emmanuel Hospice is a faith-based nonprofit provider of compassionate, person-centered hospice care to patients and families in West Michigan. Serving the community since 2013, the organization is a collaborative effort of St. Ann’s, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset designed to complete the continuum by providing end-of-life care to those inside – and outside – the walls of these organizations. For more information, visit

Coping with Grief at the Holidays

During the holidays, our culture suggests that we should be experiencing unmitigated joy, enveloped in one celebration after the other.

But that season wrapped in ribbons and bows feels altogether different to someone trying to cope with grief tied to the loss of a loved one.

“The death of someone close can really shake a survivor’s world, and celebration is the last thing on their mind,” says Heather O’Brien, director of bereavement and volunteer services for Emmanuel Hospice. “Even if it’s an expected death, the triggers are so many. The minute you walk into a store, there’s the Christmas displays. Every station on the radio seems to be playing carols. And the decorations are everywhere. It can all add up to stress for people who are already suffering.”

O’Brien also points out that for those of us living in Michigan, December traditionally provides us only scant amounts of sunshine, compounding the dilemma by creating gloomier-looking days than usual.

What to do?

O’Brien is quick to point out that there are proven strategies to combat feelings of sadness and anxiety during the holidays. The answers lie in preparing for that sadness to unfold, and being purposeful about how you respond to it.

“Coping is different for each person,” says O’Brien, who has been working in hospice care for the better part of two decades, the last four years at Emmanuel, a faith-based organization with a staff that boasts more than 200 years’ combined experience.

Devising a plan should meet those individual needs. If you’re missing a spouse, for instance, with whom you used to celebrate holidays, you may need to remove yourself from times and places that remind you of what was. That may mean spending more time with others as an antidote to retreating into chasms of loneliness.

When traditions are turned upside-down because of a death in the family, it might be time to invent others to take their place. O’Brien suggests being deliberate about honoring the loved one through storytelling, online posts, or perhaps creating an ornament or planting a tree (if warm enough) to replace that aura of sorrow with a little bittersweet joy.

It’s also important to consider setting boundaries, she says.

“Ask yourself if this is something – a party, for example – I want to do because I enjoy it, or because I’ve just always done it,” and then decide what’s in your best interest. In other words, don’t be shy about declining an invitation or slipping out early.

“Park your car so that no one can block you in, and you can leave when you want to, or simply tell your host ahead of time what hour you plan to exit, she recommends.”

As for how the rest of us might assist, O’Brien advises that instead of saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” offer something specific – a shopping trip, a movie or meal, or just time talking.

Finally, have a Plan B worked out ahead of time. “Sometimes, just having that in place can bring your anxiety down,” O’Brien says.

The holidays may never be the same after losing someone close to you. Remember there is no right or wrong to grieve. Take care of yourself and recognize that, as with each passing day, each holiday season will become a little easier.

For more information, visit