Coping With Grief During the Holidays

It can be hard handling the holidays – especially if you’re trying to process grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

But there are ways to make it through this season.

That’s not to say there’s a magic wand available to make your sadness vanish. But strategies and coping mechanisms do exist that can be put into place to make the holidays a little less stressful, even though you’re recovering from a loss.

“One of the first things to realize is that grief is a continuum,” says Ashley Huisman, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “So, while one person might react very stoically and without a lot of tears, another might be extremely emotional.

“The important thing is not to judge; we don’t know what anyone is dealing with internally in that moment.”

Another thing to consider, says Huisman, is that not everyone processes grief according to the so-called five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance.

“Grief isn’t a standard, cookie-cutter type of thing,” she says, noting it’s just as common to bounce between these stages or even skip one as it is to follow them in a linear way.

Huisman offers the following tips on how to cope with grief at the holidays:

• Manage expectations. Just because you’ve always been relied upon to bake that fancy dessert, the grief you’re feeling might compel you to pass this year. Even at the risk of thinking you’re letting someone down, take care of yourself first. “Pick out the tasks or customs,” says Huisman, “that have the most meaning for you.”

• Make time for yourself. “Take a nap,” says Huisman. “Listen to music. Try to be reflective. Or even try to not remember for a while what you’re dealing with. The important thing is to check in with yourself and be sure you’re getting what you need.”

• Give to get. When grief overwhelms, make a conscious effort to support others. It can help you create perspective and focus on another’s needs. Says Huisman, “It’s giving your heart a break.”

• Memorialize your loss. Create a special ornament that honors the person gone. Continue to hang a stocking in their name, and slip a note inside telling them the ways they’re missed. Light a candle. Write a poem. Buy a gift they would have loved and donate it in their name to a cause.

• Reach out for help. Emmanuel Hospice, for example, offers workshops and support groups to help anyone in the community manage grief, regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit organization or hospice care.

The nonprofit is offering free “Handling the Holidays” grief support sessions at various locations in the greater Grand Rapids area:
• Monday, Dec. 5 from 1-2 p.m.
• Wednesday, Dec. 14 from 2-3 p.m.
• Monday, Dec. 19 from 10-11 a.m.
• Wednesday, Dec. 21 from 10-11 a.m.

Those interested in joining are asked to contact Emmanuel Hospice if they plan to attend and get more information at 616.719.0919 or RSVPs are welcome up until the day of the event.

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 before, during and even after the holidays. More information is available at

Though it sounds simplistic, Huisman encourages people grieving through the holidays to “take them one day at a time. Try not to be anxious.

“Most of all,” she says, “look for things that will give you comfort. And let the rest be.”


How to Navigate Hospice Services and Access Care

Many of us realize that hospices are there to serve us.

But sometimes, it’s difficult to break the ice. How do you reach out – with a call or a click? And how do you express the need? With whom do you ask to speak? And what exactly do you say?

In a perfect world, there are protocols in place to accommodate all the above and more. And you should be able to reach out anytime – day or night, weekday or weekends, even on a holiday.

“At Emmanuel Hospice, we understand that life doesn’t stop when you have a need for hospice,” says Elizabeth Mangiapane, a patient access specialist there. “That’s why any time you call our main line, it’s going to be answered on a 24/7 basis. Easter Sunday? Middle of the night? It doesn’t matter. You will connect with someone who can help.”

Mangiapane emphasizes that a referral to Emmanuel can originate in more than one way. Often, a physician will make the connection. But sometimes, family members serving as caregivers become involved at the outset, and naturally they have questions about eligibility, timing and more.

While a physician’s order is required to perform a formal assessment, a representative from Emmanuel will welcome the opportunity to meet with a patient and/or their loved ones if they simply have questions.

In either case, “we do all the legwork,” Mangiapane says. If it’s determined someone qualifies, the hospice care provider will integrate the patient’s physician and medical history into the equation as needed.

“We’ll set up meetings. We’ll work with the doctors. We are glad to serve in any capacity that lessens the burden on that patient, on that family.”

Mangiapane notes that there’s never a “wrong time” to inquire about hospice. Too often, people will act on the misconception that hospice is only “for the last few days a patient has.”

On the contrary, “We’re trying more than ever to educate the community on how it can be for a much longer time period, so that we might focus earlier not on the quantity of life someone has left, but the quality of life that remains.”

For someone who lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, that institution may have a working relationship with a preferred provider. But Mangiapane explains that a patient and their family have the right to choose any hospice, and shouldn’t feel pressured.

Mangiapane says it’s important you come away with a full understanding of the services a hospice provides. At Emmanuel, for example, a full slate of complementary services is available – pet visitors, massage therapy, music therapy, virtual reality and more.

Location of care is important to ask about, too. A common misconception is that hospice is a place you go to, but for most providers, hospice care can be provided anywhere. With Emmanuel, it can be in the hospital, a care facility or wherever a person calls home.

Cost is another consideration. Medicare and most commercial insurances will cover 100% of virtually everything provided by hospice – medications and visits, personal care, counseling and other services – but there are some limitations. A phone call can help you discover where you stand.

“Make your choices based on the needs of the patient and family,” says Mangiapane. “You want what’s right for you, and that can look different from person to person.”

For more information, visit or call 616.719.0919.

Emmanuel Hospice Invites Community to Send Letters, Volunteer to Support Veterans in Hospice Care

Grand Rapids, Michigan, Nov. 7, 2022 – As the nation prepares to honor American heroes for their military service, Emmanuel Hospice invites community members to send messages of gratitude or join its veteran-to-veteran volunteer program to bolster support for veterans facing a life-limiting illness.

Anyone in the community who would like to send a message to a veteran who is on hospice, can either email or mail a letter to 401 Hall St. SE, Suite 263, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 by Nov. 9. The nonprofit will hand-deliver the notes to its patients on Veterans Day, which is on Friday, Nov. 11.

“So much of what we do is really honoring the life our patients have lived and helping achieve their goals for how they want to live in the time they have left,” said Jenny Kellogg, Emmanuel’s support programs manager. “This is an important time of year to bring attention to the experiences and sacrifices of veterans and to express our gratitude for their service in meaningful ways.

“We invite the community to get involved in showing support for the individuals who have put their lives on the line for a grateful nation and now find themselves in hospice care.”

Emmanuel Hospice is also seeking veterans and active-duty service members in West Michigan to participate in its veteran-to-veteran volunteer program. Veteran-to-veteran volunteering offers an opportunity to provide companionship, swap stories, participate in military honor ceremonies and support one another by sharing the common thread of military service.

“Our veteran-to-veteran volunteer program helps create a supportive environment for veterans to feel comfortable sharing their memories,” Kellogg said. “When one veteran talks with another, they have a common language and bond that allows for a level of sharing that is truly healing.

“As an Emmanuel Hospice volunteer, you can help provide comfort and dignity to veterans who are in our care during their last chapter.”

Those who are interested may visit to learn more and register.

The volunteer program is part of Emmanuel Hospice’s year-round efforts as a We Honor Veterans partner to extend recognition to veterans and provide specialized, veteran-centric care. The nonprofit also offers recognition and pinning ceremonies, assistance navigating veteran benefits and an Honor Flight virtual reality experience, among other patient services.

Additionally, the organization provides ongoing education for both staff and community members on how to recognize and respond to the needs of veterans and their loved ones. This has included training on the identification of veteran-specific needs of patients at admission, symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical interventions specific to veteran needs and understanding veterans’ benefits.

“Veterans Day is an important time to honor veterans, but we also know how important it is to show our support year-round,” Kellogg said. “Nov. 11 reminds us to seek out opportunities every day to better serve those who have served in our country’s military.”

To learn more about Emmanuel Hospice, visit More information about the We Honor Veterans program is available at

World Hospice & Palliative Care Day Offers Opportunities to Reflect, Reach Out

For caregivers and survivors left in the wake of some six million who died during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s more than grief and anxiety to consider.

That’s the message from organizers of World Hospice & Palliative Care Day, celebrated this Oct. 8 to commemorate and support hospice and palliative care around the world with one voice advocating quality of life and equitable healthcare for all.

It’s also an opportunity to help people understand the difference between hospice care and palliative care, emphasizes Michele Siegel, a social worker for Emmanuel Hospice.

“A lot of people group the two together, but there are distinct differences,” she points out. “The biggest one is that with palliative care, you typically don’t have a life expectancy of six months or less to qualify for symptom management.”

At Emmanuel and other hospices, the primary emphasis is on providing holistic care and support for someone seeking to live as pain-free and alert as possible throughout a serious illness. Medications, equipment, supplies and care relate to pain and symptom relief.

That contrasts markedly from palliative care, where the patient is likely still fighting their illness and continues employing strategies tied to the prospect of cures.

“Does hospice provide palliative care?” Siegel poses. “In a sense, yes. We provide palliative care in the sense that our goal is to provide comfort and care. But with hospice, you also have a terminal diagnosis, and so you’re not seeking curative treatments.”

Sometimes, people suffering from the same maladies can be receiving either hospice or palliative care. They often include those diagnosed with cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. The care they choose to receive determines whether they’re receiving palliative or hospice care. If they’re fighting their condition with therapies or clinical trials or other options designed to sustain life, that’s palliative care. If they’re mostly managing pain and symptoms and focused on “making the best of the time you have left,” says Siegel, that’s subscribing to hospice care.

According to Siegel, it’s important to rely on healthcare workers you trust – as well as friends or family members who may be serving as caregivers – to both understand and act on options available. In either case, she says, it’s important to find someone who wants to “coach but not force” decisions affecting care.

The organization supporting World Hospice & Palliative Care Day – online at – offers a digital toolkit on its website to help inform and educate those interested in the annual observance.

Siegel applauds such measures, noting that individual hospice care providers like Emmanuel also go to great means to educate people on who they are, what they stand for and the services they provide.

“We’re always just a click or a phone call away, and eager to inform people wondering about their options,” she says. “It’s not always easy wading through all the information available. We’re here to help with that.”

For more information, visit or call 616.719.0919.

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Role of Hospice Social Worker is to Listen, Engage, Fulfill

For any social worker involved in hospice care, it’s all about meeting the needs of patients and their families. And that means listening intently and responding to clues that are both subtle and obvious.

“Just recently, I was sharing with a patient that they could tell me anything, because I’m there to listen and to serve, no matter the physical or emotional need,” says Britt Fischer, a medical social worker for Emmanuel Hospice. “I’m there to keep my ears and eyes open for anything, and if it’s a spiritual need or something else outside my realm, I’ll find the right person to address it.”

Fischer joined Emmanuel this year and brings nearly a decade of experience to the job tied to work she performed on behalf of adults with intellectual and developmental challenges.

“In hospice especially,” says Fischer, “it’s making sure folks have as many resources as possible as they make decisions about their final months and days. They may need assistance with exploring durable power of attorney and other legal questions. Maybe they’re at odds with a family member over final arrangements or have a strained relationship with a loved one. It could be any one of a number of concerns. It’s our job to help them and their family members sift through the options.”

According to Fischer, it’s important to honor the decisions a patient makes as they embark on what can be a difficult journey: “Sometimes it’s helping them deal with caregivers and friends and family. A veteran may have other concerns. And then there are people who don’t have a lot of support or others to lean on, and we become the last line of support.”

Sometimes, says Fischer, it’s a hard line to walk when the patient insists on one thing and a family member pushes for another. “We can get into some tough conversations, but the bottom line is to listen to all sides and respect those differing opinions in making those decisions for the patient.”

Fischer emphasizes that when a team approach is utilized – which is how Emmanuel provides its hospice care – it presents opportunities to cover all the bases: physical, emotional, spiritual and more. Social workers are especially attuned to anticipating the need for grief support, facilitating life reviews and educating patients and their loved ones about hospice care in a compassionate way.

It’s also important to attend to the details. “Maybe someone wants something as simple as an electric shaver. Or one more trip to the beach. To a social worker, job satisfaction is making those kinds of things happen for our people.”

The key, she says, is to establish and maintain open lines of communication with patients:  “That’s the best way to ensure the patient is served in every way.”

By definition, says Fischer, social work “is all about constantly learning while on the job, and it’s always changing, because you’re working with people as the center of your universe. You’re never going to be 100% prepared for every question or concern, but you learn how to adapt, how to try to make wishes come true.”


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