Archive for October, 2017

Grief During the Holidays: Some Tips

The winter holidays are generally perceived as “the most wonderful time of the year.” But for those who are facing grief after the death of a loved one, the holidays may instead be a time filled with pain and sadness.

Even those for whom grief is not as fresh, the holidays may serve as an annual reminder of the loss—not only of that person, but of tradition and celebration.Multi Generation Family Meal

Bereavement professionals working in hospice and palliative care understand how difficult this season can be. They support families coping with loss all year long. Bereavement counselors stress the importance of making decisions that feel right to the grieving person, and giving oneself permission to make new or different choices at the holidays.

Experts in Grief offer some tips:

Be Willing to Change Traditions

Holidays often center on certain traditions and rituals. For some, continuing these traditions without a loved one may be an important way to continue sharing their memory. For others, it may be more comforting to develop new rituals to help lessen the pain and immediacy of the loss.

Help Reduce Stress

While the holidays can be filled with meaning, they can also be filled with pressure and stress because of additional tasks such as shopping, baking and decorating. Grieving people should be encouraged to prioritize what needs to be done, and focus on those projects that may bring them pleasure. Perhaps the gift list can be pared down, cards need not be sent out, or another family member can cook the family dinner this year.

Remember those Who Have Died

The holidays can bring opportunities to remember the person who has died in a way that is personally meaningful. Some families choose to participate in holiday events at a local hospice. Others may choose to share special family stories over a meal. Some may find that making a donation to a special charity or volunteering time to help others in need may be a comforting way to honor their loved one.

The professionals at Houston Hospice know of the importance of providing emotional and spiritual support to those who are grieving but most importantly, they remind us that a person grieving should do what’s most comfortable for him or her during this time of year.

Houston Hospice offers a variety of grief support groups as one way to manage grief. All support groups are open to the public at no charge. If you or a loved one need help, please call 713-677-7131 to learn more.

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From Oil Executive to Hospice Volunteer

Changing Roles

At the end of 2016 Judy Calabria faced a life event that most of us encounter several times. She was leaving a job — the only job she’d ever had. Judy joined Shell Oil Company as a programmer in 1984. Her work took her to places like The Hague and Kuala Lupur occasionally, but Houston remained home base. At the time of her retirement, Judy was managing people and processes related to major IT outages, disaster recovery and crisis response. Even though Shell had been her only employer, Judy wasn’t leaving all of her work routine behind. Rather, she decided to engage more fully into her role as a Houston Hospice Volunteer — a position that was already vying with the oil business to define her.

Judy began volunteering at Houston Hospice in February 2009, and she was named Houston Hospice Volunteer of the Year for 2017. Volunteer Coordinator, Elisa Covarrubias says that Judy assists with anything that needs to be done. “She delivers meals at Thanksgiving and gifts and cards to our patient families for Christmas. Every Friday she visits patients in the inpatient care unit. She has even made numerous emergency visits to be with patients who were in distress at the request of our nursing staff. Judy spends hours visiting and comforting as many patients as necessary. Truly, she does anything we ask. She visits patients, assembles and delivers Angel Bags of groceries and hygiene items for our families in need, trains new volunteers, works in the office and stocks and cleans the snack bar.”

VolunteerismJudy Calabria

Judy credits Shell with encouraging her volunteerism. “When I got to Shell in 1984 they had a really robust volunteer program for their employees. For many years I got involved in Veteran’s Day parties at the VA Hospital, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center Easter egg hunts, chaperoning kids to the zoo, holiday projects, fixing up homes, and many other volunteer projects that Shell offered to their employees. I liked being able to give back and help others. In the late 1990s I got away from volunteering for 7 or 8 years because I was traveling internationally. When my father passed away in 2008, I started thinking about things in my life that I missed and that made me happy. Volunteering was one of them. Both of my parents were under hospice care up in Ohio, and I really liked how hospice helped my family, so I asked the Ohio hospice for advice on how to select a hospice in Houston.”

The staff at nonprofit Valley Hospice in Ohio suggested Judy look for a nonprofit hospice in Houston. They also told her to look for specific accreditation. Houston Hospice met the criteria, so Judy signed up and applied the skills she’d learned at Shell to help hospice patients.

Applying Executive Skills to Hospice

“At Shell, I learned the importance of truly listening to what is being said and not assuming too much too fast. At Houston Hospice, these qualities are just as important. Communications is key when volunteering at hospice; knowing when to say something to a family member, patient, or a hospice employee, and knowing what to say during difficult or emotional interactions. It’s even knowing when to listen versus talk.”

Judy believes the tight deadlines at Shell taught her how to prioritize. “I prided myself on being able to juggle my work and the work of my team based on priorities. My motto when volunteering at Houston Hospice is that I’ll do anything the Volunteer Coordinators ask me to do. That’s why I have been so lucky to be involved in so many different activities at Houston Hospice. I look forward to continuing to help Houston Hospice in any capacity they need. I also appreciate all the Houston Hospice volunteers who do a smaller subset of hospice activities. They are just as vital to making Houston Hospice such a special place.”

Judy’s global experiences taught her about diversity and respecting the value that everyone brings to the table. “That has helped me a lot in working at Hospice, whether I’m talking to patients, family members, friends, or hospice employees. I’m always amazed at our similarities and our differences, and how there always seems to be a way to bond us together, even during difficult times.”

Opportunities to Smile

People often ask Judy why she volunteers for a hospice because they assume it would be depressing. Judy tells them that there are some conversations that are sad, but there are opportunities to smile and help people in ways that she would not have imagined. “I don’t sing, but one day I was asked to hum Christmas carols to a patient. I was amazed at the calming effect my humming had on the patient. Once I sat with a gentleman who was alert but rarely spoke or responded to anyone. I was telling him a little about me and how lucky I was to have been able to see and do things I never imagined. He actually spoke to me and even held my hand.”

Volunteers are an integral part of nonprofit Houston Hospice’s team. To learn more about volunteering at Houston Hospice, call 713-467-7423 or visit

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communications Specialist

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