She loved to cook, entertain and care for people. She always hosted holidays at her house, which made Christmas 2015 all the more difficult.

Heather Kurtz was 33 years old when she died after a six-year battle with breast cancer.

Although she’d been sick, Kurtz’s death was sudden and shocking to her family, including Kurtz’s sisters, Cally Stromberg and Jessica Moser.

Grief is a painful experience. And while the holidays are a fun and exciting time for most, they can also be a struggle for others.

Kurtz, the oldest of three sisters, loved caring for others so much, she cared for people professionally too managing at multiple local restaurants. Kurtz especially loved caring for her husband, Phil, and their daughter, Cadence.

After Kurtz’s death that April, Moser said she experienced the various stages of grief, as most people do. However, as December approached, Moser said she felt like she experienced those stages all over again.

“I needed to remind myself to get through — not just one day at a time — but one hour at a time,” Moser said.

This experience isn’t uncommon, said Maren Radi, hospice coordinator at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. Even if the death occurred months or years before, holiday memories can stir up mixed emotions in surviving relatives.

Radi advises people to be patient with themselves. It’s OK to avoid some social gatherings if you don’t feel up to it, she said, but don’t isolate yourself altogether. Allow yourself time for solitude and remembrance.

The Emergency Department at Jamestown Regional Medical Center usually sees a few extra people struggling with grief over the holidays, said Deanna VanBruggen, a registered nurse. These people are usually lonely and struggling after the loss of a loved one.

“People remember the happy times at Christmas,” she said. “But they don’t always remember that the holidays aren’t happy for everyone.”

Stromberg, the youngest of the three sisters, said she recommends people acknowledge their emotions and allow themselves to feel them.

What helps her is when people privately acknowledge her grief or remember her sister. It’s hard when people say something in public, however, Stromberg says she appreciates private messages or texts.

“Everyone wants to be sure you’re OK, and I appreciate that. It’s just usually best if they can express that privately. No one wants to get emotional in public,” she said.

One healthy way to grieve is to honor the memory of that individual, Radi said. For the family of Heather Kurtz, they continue to hold Christmas together as a family.

“We worried about the children, but if anything, the children helped,” Stromberg said. “We had to have Christmas that first year and make it as normal as possible.”

One of the ways the family honors Kurtz’s life is with a memory book. Family and friends can write or read the book at any time, especially at holidays. The book is one way they can preserve memories for Cadence, now age 9.

Today, the family continues to gather each holiday. They make sure to enjoy the day, in part because life is short, and also because Heather was ‘bossy’ and would want the family to have a good time, Moser said with a smile.

According to JRMC Hospice, other ways to deal with grief include:

  1. Help others: Whether it’s shoveling the sidewalks of the elderly, volunteering for the hungry or donating to a favorite charity, giving back is a great way to fill a grieving heart with joy.
  2. Try something new during the holidays: Creating new memories doesn’t mean you forget the old ones. Start a new tradition, based on the hobbies and interests of a loved one: Grandpa loved to golf so let’s all play 9 holes, for example, or Mom loved to cook, so let’s volunteer at the food pantry.
  3. Practice patience: Whether it’s you grieving or someone you know, practice patience when people feel happy, sad, anxious or angry.

To learn more about grief or hospice services, call JRMC Hospice at (701) 952-4847.


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