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Where to get free grief counseling in Tampa Bay during the holidays

BayCare Health System will host the virtual sessions, which provide coping tips.
Tony Karlhofer of Largo places flowers near a makeshift memorial for Deputy Michael Hartwick at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Largo on Sept. 23. BayCare Health System is hosting free grief support sessions before Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Tony Karlhofer of Largo places flowers near a makeshift memorial for Deputy Michael Hartwick at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Largo on Sept. 23. BayCare Health System is hosting free grief support sessions before Thanksgiving and Christmas. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Nov. 17

The holidays can be lonely and somber for Tampa Bay residents grieving the death of a loved one.

To help those in distress, BayCare Health System is hosting free grief support sessions before Thanksgiving and Christmas. The meetings will be held virtually on Microsoft Teams and are open to anyone, including people who are not BayCare patients.

A chaplain and licensed clinical social worker will offer coping tips for attendees. They will also explain what emotions may occur as people struggle in the coming weeks.

“It normalizes what they’re going through. They’re anxious. They don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Margie Bowers-Atkinson, BayCare’s assistant director for spiritual and palliative care. “They don’t have their child, their husband, their relative.”

Related: Florida’s preventable deaths rose during the pandemic. It wasn’t just COVID.

The program began in 2006 with in-person sessions but shifted online last year due to COVID-19. It provides advice on how to navigate the holidays, which are filled with traditions that can remind people of their loss.

“If you’ve always had Christmas at your house,” Bowers-Atkinson said, “you can change. You don’t have to do that this year. ... Sounds simple, but people don’t think about that.”

The goal, she said, is to remind those who are grieving they are not alone and “other people (are) walking down a similar path.”

To register for the sessions and get a link to access them, email mpmbereavement@baycare.org or call 727-462-7995. Remaining sessions will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 7.

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