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Holidays in the Hospital: Celebrating When a Loved One is Ill

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"Being in the hospital any day of the year is particularly challenging, but during a holiday it's even more challenging," says Sandie Sternberg, coordinator of Child Life Services at Cedars-Sinai.

"You want to be home with family and friends."

"If you have a tradition you do at home that can be easily brought into the hospital, we encourage that."

How to include holiday traditions at the hospital

Sandie says that when someone is in the hospital, the key is to try to normalize the experience.

"If you have a tradition you do at home that can be easily brought into the hospital, we encourage that," she says. "For both children and adults, maintaining your daily routine is part of what helps you get better."

Normalizing the hospital stay can make patients feel more comfortable, which is important for their care.

"If a person's mind is in a peaceful place, their body will try to follow suit," Sandie says. "It's a mind-body connection."

Allowing space for emotions

"Patients often talk about what their faith means to them during the holidays," says Reverend Peggy Kelley. "It's such a season of light and hope. Even when people are really sick, they want to remember that piece."

Peggy says that when someone is in the hospital it's important to make sure they are being listened to and heard.

"When I talk to patients, I talk a lot about self-compassion and self-kindness," she says. "For loved ones, especially families, the holidays might be really hard. They might feel like they have to hold everything up."

"They're also sad. The experience of the holidays isn't the same. I try to explain that it's OK to feel sad, it's OK to wish things were different. It's OK to feel angry."

Seeing the hospital as a place for healing

As a chaplain, Peggy views the hospital as a "very sacred, holy place."

"There are many types of healing—it doesn't have to be physical," she says. "In our work, there's a lot of spiritual and emotional healing."

In addition to being a reverend, Peggy is also a reiki master. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique that promotes relaxation and can reduce stress.

Peggy says that reiki is becoming increasingly popular with patients at Cedars-Sinai.

"What we're finding is that, for many people who don't align with any religion, they want a spiritual practice and a spiritual connection. Reiki is an incredible avenue for that."

Focusing on faith, hope, and gratitude

Sandie says witnessing families and loved ones spending time with a patient during a holiday can be very rewarding.

"I think families usually find their way when celebrating a holiday in the hospital, whether it's based on faith, hope, or gratitude," she says. "Families really experience such thankfulness. It's so genuine and sincere. To be able to see that and watch that, it's a beautiful thing."