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Friday, 27 November 2015 08:52

Keeping the holidays bright through challenging times

Written by  Dennis Hines
Family members gathered last year for Mercy Health System’s Love Light tree ceremony that helps people remember a friend or family member who has died during the past year. A variety of community organizations are available to help people who are dealing with a death in the family or a health crisis get through the holidays. Family members gathered last year for Mercy Health System’s Love Light tree ceremony that helps people remember a friend or family member who has died during the past year. A variety of community organizations are available to help people who are dealing with a death in the family or a health crisis get through the holidays. File photo

STATELINE NEWS -- Dealing with a chronic illness or the death of a loved one is perhaps the most difficult thing a family can face, especially during the holidays.

But a variety of community organizations offer programs and services designed to help families get through the holiday season.

Beloit Regional Hospice offers support groups and counseling sessions during the holidays for patients and their family members.

“Typically, support groups are six or seven weeks long, but sometimes people really do feel the loss of their loved ones during the holidays,” said Adena Dutter, development and marketing director for Beloit Regional Hospice. “It can be very helpful to get together with a group of people who are feeling the same way.”

Dutter said, oftentimes, the holidays can be more difficult for the patients’ families than the patients themselves.

“I think that’s why hospice is so beautiful, because we care for the whole family. It’s just not for the patient,” Dutter said. “By caring for the whole family, we are better caring for the patient, because I think for a lot of people, the most important thing for them is their family and to make their family feel comfortable in what’s happening. Then the patient is much more comfortable.”

Beloit Regional Hospice partnered with the Overflowing Cup ministry, Masonic Lodge, Culver’s of Beloit and other local groups and businesses this year to provide Thanksgiving meals to about 20 hospice patients and their families. Hospice offers the Granting Wishes programs throughout the year in which they try to accommodate a patient’s request.

Doug Waters, Granting Wishes coordinator, said hospice receives several requests during the holidays, which may include providing transportation for a relative to visit, funding a holiday dinner for the entire family or scheduling an out-of-town trip.

“It’s one of those things that we find, especially during the holidays, that travel requests increase. One year, we had a family that was destitute, and we provided funding so the kids and the family could have Christmas dinner,” Waters said. “We’ve done everything from purchasing a computer for a bed-bound person to a new television because that was (the patient’s) only source of entertainment.”

Dutter said people who are dealing with grief during the holidays should get together with friends and family members and continue their holiday traditions.

“You don’t want grief to keep you isolated,” Dutter said. “I would advise people to do what they would’ve traditionally done. I definitely think that goes hand-in-hand with our grief support groups, being able to speak about your loved one as opposed to keeping the feelings that you’re having inside.”

Dutter said BRH receives many requests for services after the holidays, when people may be feeling more isolated.

“In terms of our patients, I think it’s sometimes after the holidays we get a lot of calls from people who think they might be eligible for hospice, because during the holidays families are gathering and people are seeing that they need more help and that’s when they will tend to call,” Dutter said. “I think people can hang on during the holidays when they can spend time with their family.”

For more information about Beloit Regional Hospice, call 608-363-7421 or

n Fran Coan-Meredith, counselor for Agrace HospiceCare, said Agrace encourages people to start their own holiday traditions to remember their friend or family member.

“We want people to know to always remember the person who died and never forget about them,” Coan-Meredith said. “We talk to them about something they can do with their family and friends to create a ritual or to do something to remember the person who died.”

Coan-Meredith said people who are dealing with grief should continue with their holiday plans but make changes if needed.

“If you’re having dinner with family and if you can’t go through some of the normal rituals, make changes,” Coan-Meredith said.

Post-holidays also can be a difficult time for people who are grieving, which is why Agrace hospice will offer a grief support group beginning Jan. 12.

For more information about Agrace’s programs and services, call 608-755-1870 or go to

n Mercy Hospice offers a variety of programs and services to help its patients and their family members get through the holidays.

Mercy hosts Braving the Holidays workshops in Janesville and Walworth County in early November to discuss methods for dealing with grief. Laura Bergeron, Mercy Hospice volunteer coordinator, said people share memories of their loved ones and discuss traditions they have started to cope with grief during the holidays.

“We know we’re coming up on a difficult time. (Braving the Holidays) is just not for anyone who has lost a loved one but for anyone in our service,” Bergeron said. “It’s a workshop to give people ideas on how to get through the holidays. For people who have lost a loved one, we help them come up with ideas of their own.”

Mercy Health System hosts a Love Light tree ceremony in November to help people remember a friend or family member who has died during the past year.

“Anyone in our hospice family can participate in that,” Bergeron said. “It’s for anyone in the health system.”

Mercy Hospice sends Christmas cookie baskets and cards to its patients, and Mercy volunteers perform holiday music for patients and their families. Mercy Hospice offers the Making Memories program throughout the year, in which patients can request a special meal or celebration with their families.

Katy Phetteplace, Mercy Hospice coordinator, said they receive additional requests during the holidays.

“It’s a special time for the patients. We put together something to make Christmas special for them,” Phetteplace said. “It’s usually a meal with their family. We don’t bring in paper plates. We bring in china, silverware and stem glasses. We make it a special dinner like they’re eating at a restaurant.”

Phetteplace said Mercy also offers the Widows Coffee group once a month at Citrus Café, in which widows can interact with other people dealing with grief.

“It helps widows get back into the community. Most of them have been caregivers for the past few years, and they’ve lost some of their social connections,” Phetteplace said. “This helps them get with people who also have experienced a loss and to connect with them. It’s not a grief support group but more of a social group.”

For more information about Mercy Hospice, call 608-754-2201.

n Janet Bollig, outreach manager and medical social worker for Home Health United, said her agency mostly receives request for services after the holidays. Bollig said Home Health United offers informational visits to help patients and families learn about the services they offer.

“People will come home for the holidays and notice a parent or adult child has shown changes,” Bollig said. “We give families options in being more proactive in seeking out services. Usually after the holidays, they start identifying changes in an aunt or uncle. They may seem to be more weak and may be in need of more services.”

Home Health United offers a hospice program for people who have a chronic condition who may have decided to seek support services instead of treatment.

Bollig said Home Health also offers in-home nursing and health aid services to help people learn how to become more independent.

For more information about Home Health United, call 608-270-2321 or go to



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