Community connection eases grief during the holidays

By Tamera Manzanares

Extending kindness is good for our wellbeing, especially when we feel sad or lonely because someone we love is no longer with us. The holidays can exasperate these feelings with traditions and rituals that remind us of life changes that are anything but joyful.

“Helping others brings pleasure to the brain and, for a time, gets us outside ourselves and difficult emotions we may be experiencing,” said Jo Anne Grace, spiritual care and bereavement coordinator at Northwest Colorado Health. Some spiritual traditions encourage people to remember a loved one by participating in an activity or volunteering for a cause that was important that person. “You adopt a value or quality of the other person and you live that out to honor them and what they found meaningful,” she said.

Grace volunteers every week at Lift Up Routt County food bank. She gives back in the spirit of her mother, who started a food bank in Denver and continued to volunteer there until she was 90. “Volunteering can be an amazing experience, “Grace said. “You experience being with people you might otherwise not meet, and it also makes you sensitive to the needs of others.”

Helping families navigate the complicated grief process is an important part of Grace’s role with Northwest Colorado Health’s Hospice program. She also leads grief support groups and events such as the Celebration of Light, where individuals and families can release a sky lantern, decorate ornaments and be with others remembering loved ones during the holidays. All ages are welcome at the events, which will be held 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Rollingstone Respite House in Steamboat Springs and 6 to 8 pm Dec. 12 at the Haven Community Center in Hayden.

The Celebration of Light is an opportunity to grieve in an uplifting community atmosphere, and can help fill a void left by holiday traditions or activities a person shared with a loved one who has passed. “Sometimes we can get secluded or isolate ourselves,” Grace said. “This type of event creates community connections and helps people realize they are not the only ones struggling this time of year.”

Grace is also working with faith based communities to host a Blue Christmas service 5:30 pm Dec. 19 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. “It’s important to go easy on ourselves and be ok with being sad,” Grace said. “This service is about acknowledging that and sharing our grief with others.”

For more information about the Celebration of Light or Blue Christmas service, contact Grace at 970-846-8319.

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