Weekly Tips & Insights

Holidays Take on New Meanings for Patients & Families with Serious Illnesses

Holidays are meant to be filled with joy and cheer, but for those facing serious illness, it can be a stressful reminder that life is limited. The Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) Palliative Care Team is a good resource to discuss some of the troubling symptoms of anticipatory grief that can bring sadness into the season for patients and their caregivers. Focusing on the quality of life as opposed to the quantity is always the goal, but this can be challenging in the face of declining health.


Here are some helpful tips that can be used by caregivers. Always know that your VNA Palliative Care Providers are available to patients and families to work through the difficult times as well.

  • Dealing with the emotions related to medical diagnoses within the family is difficult. Acknowledge that things will be different this holiday. Patients may not be able to do the things that brought them joy in the past. Find new ways of coming together as a family. Christmas Brunch at the patient’s bedside may need to be the substitute for the traditional large holiday gathering. Holiday cookies may need to come from the grocery store instead of being home baked. No matter what your religious or spiritual inclinations, most people have formed traditional rituals over the years that bring comfort and peaceful meaning. A willingness to open ourselves to be flexible can benefit everyone and bring people together in stressful times.

  • Visits should be non-stressful times to review past years and traditions that bind the family together. Life review journaling with the patient and caregiving family can be a way to create remembrances for future years. Spiritual Counselors are part of the VNA Palliative Team and function as great listeners. They are available to support family members as well as the patient.

  • Let the patient be the center of attention or just a participant as they choose. The world will become a smaller space but should still be filled with loved ones. Listen to the patient and be honest in responding.

  • Get help if you need it. Involve the VNA Palliative Care Team. Ask for resources! Your Team is a great place to start! Taking care of the patient includes taking care of the caregiver!

  • Lastly, live in the moment with gratitude. Celebrate a life, not an illness. Find a way to approach each day with honesty, being mindful that some days will be easier than others. Make new traditions that allow the family unit to give and receive joy in the moment.

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