2016-11-03 / Life in Leelanau

Family copes with loss entering holiday season

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THIS WILL BE the Kelly family’s first Christmas without husband and father Tom Kelly, the former director of the Inland Seas Association who died in January, and they are learning how to cope. Shown are Tom, Anne, Graham and Emma Kelly. THIS WILL BE the Kelly family’s first Christmas without husband and father Tom Kelly, the former director of the Inland Seas Association who died in January, and they are learning how to cope. Shown are Tom, Anne, Graham and Emma Kelly. For Anne Kelly there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about how her family will celebrate Christmas this year.

Kelly lost her husband Tom Kelly to cancer on Jan. 8. After 32 years together, this will be her first holiday season without him.

Will someone take his place at the head of the table? Or will the space remain empty to honor him?

Will she and their kids, 23-year-old Emma and 21-year-old Graham, take a Christmas Day hike at the DeYoung Farm like they did last year? Or will they do something different?

And what about the tree that was always cut down by Tom in a years-long tradition?

“I know I’m not going to want to put up the tree without him,” Kelly said, adding that she’ll likely wait for family to show up before tackling the job.

“It might mean the tree goes up on Christmas Eve,” said Kelly, who is the care coordinator for ShareCare of Leelanau.

Kelly was also a Hospice nurse for many years, but helping other people get through the holidays after a loved one has died is different than going through it yourself, she said.

Leelanau County Senior Services recently hosted a “Surviving the Holidays” program that focused on how to approach the holiday season after the death of a loved one.

For a person who is dealing with the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be especially tough, said April Missias, director of Leelanau County Senior Services.

What holiday traditions will be carried on? What about family get-togethers?

“How do we cope with this new way of being and still honor the person that has passed?” Missias said.

Missias said people should have a plan that includes how long they will stay at an event and how they will deal with all those things that may trigger their grief, such as how they will answer the questions that are sure to come their way.

Questions may vary from those who want to know how they are doing to wanting details of what happened to their loved one.

“For some people that may be hard to talk about,” Missias said.

There is also the extended hug.

“If someone gives you a hug and the hug lasts a little too long, how do you respond?”

Kelly and her children will spend Thanksgiving out of town with family, but she has been talking to her kids about Christmas for a while, trying to get them prepared for what may be a difficult transition.

“I started trying to lay the groundwork with our kids several months ago for wanting to do something different at Christmas,” Kelly said.

Tom, who was 67, died at the couple’s Suttons Bay home of mantle cell lymphoma. He was diagnosed in 2009, but had no symptoms for four years. He started treatment for the disease just one month before his retirement in 2013.

After his death their children were surprised that she wasn’t visibly grieving, Kelly said.

“What I really was, I was in ‘mom’ mode and I was more worried about them than myself,” she said.

Kelly said their last Christmas together was wonderful and is a good memory to have.

“So I want to acknowledge a difference and not just be sad all day,” she said. “None of us are going to be happy about Tom not being with us this year.”

Missias said coming to an event like “Surviving the Holidays” may be difficult for some people, as they may feel like they’ll be expected to share, to talk about their experience.

“Grieving is very private for some,” Missias said. “It’s too personal.”

Kelly agreed, saying that when she worked for Hospice there were some people who were just not comfortable with support groups.

“Grief support groups are not for everybody,” Kelly said.

For those who are looking for a little help, all Hospice organizations have grief support. In Leelanau County a group sponsored by Munson Hospice meets at 11 a.m. on the second Monday of the month at the Leelanau County Government Center in Suttons Bay.

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