Holidays are for being with those we love most. So, how can anyone be expected to cope with these celebrations when death has taken a loved one? Marianne Burnett, a board-certified chaplain and bereavement specialist at Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn, witnessed patients’ families who needed skills and strategies for coping with loss during this most difficult season.
In response, she created a workshop “Coping with Loss” four years ago. Each year, grieving family members of patients who had passed away at the hospital during the year attend Burnett’s two-hour workshop. This year, 50 attended.
Burnett said, “Bereaved persons often feel pressured to continue the same traditions they had before their loss. This workshop delivers helpful information. And, I give them permission to change their traditions or have an exit strategy when attending social gatherings.”
Workshop attendees begin by writing the name of their loved one on a tag attached to a holiday ornament - more about this later. And then, they watch a video about coping with holiday grief.
Burnett, a Dearborn resident, shared her own story of crushing loss. In 2007, her daughter Jillian, 22, was attending college in upstate New York. A speeding driver ran a red light and killed her.
“After Jillian died, I did not want to celebrate Christmas ever again,” she said. “The first year, I had to give myself permission not to decorate nor travel during that time, something I wouldn’t have thought to do before. Since then, I have created new traditions with my family and others. I make sure Jillian’s presence is felt. We might play her favorite Christmas songs or watch a movie she loved. I know my baby is with us because love never dies.”
Next, attendees craft personalized memorial candles. They tie ribbons onto the candles that represent sports teams, colors, animals and flowers their loved ones liked. The families use these candles on their holiday table at home to serve as a loving reminder of the cherished place the deceased occupied.
Burnett led her attendees in a guided meditation exercise for relaxation before the workshop moved to the hospital’s interfaith sanctuary for a remembrance service.
“Ritual is very important for those who are grieving,” Burnett said. “It helps bring healing and offers the opportunity to share stories of the deceased’s life. It can be the very first step in the healing process.”
As the names of the deceased were called out, family members placed their named ornaments on a holiday tree of remembrance. In addition, all patients, families and staff are invited to place ornaments on the tree during the holiday season. Blank ornaments are available for this use.
Kevin Kachigian, a grieving father who lives in Allen Park, found the event comforting in helping his family to cope with the sudden passing of his daughter Nicole, 20, last April in a car accident.
“We found the workshop especially helpful, as this is our first Christmas without her,” he said. Burnett and her staff made his family feel welcome and helped them to deal with the painful anticipation of the holidays.
“We had no idea of what to expect,” he said. “The subject matter was spot on with suggestions on how to insulate and protect ourselves from the unknown. Creating the ornaments and decorating the candles showed us a way to include our darling Nicole in the holiday as we continue to celebrate her life.”