Sunday, November 26, 2006

11/27/06 Transcript of Family Member Chat: Coping with the Holidays

This is the transcript from the Project Jason Family Member Chat held on 11/21/06. Our special guest was Duane Bowers.

You can learn more about our chats and about Duane in this entry:

Kelly: Good evening everyone, and welcome to the Project Jason Family Member Chat. As you know, this evening is a guest chat with Duane Bowers, grief and trauma therapist. Our special topic is "Coping with the Holidays".

Duane: Thanks for having me again. I'd like to start by just reminding folks that the holidays are not just the time preparing, or the time during, but the affects last for nearly 3 weeks afterward. The affect is usually about relationships, money or physical stress. So let's start from there.

Marilyn: My Son has been missing for 12 years. The holidays are particularly sad because the family gets angry, cold and harsh when I tell Bobby (my son, 39 now) stories, include him in grace and eventually cry at sometime during the holiday. I think the tears are that they do not want to mention Bobby. My other son has never attempted to find Bobby, and they were so close. My daughter has on occasion done a search but only if my husband asks after I ask.
We were a bonded, close, envied family before Bobby disappeared. I need professional help to cope with all of it. I devoted all of me to the family before Bobby disappeared and so very much after because I was sorry for their loss.

Duane: Finding someone that understands the issue of a missing child is difficult. However finding a therapist who understands trauma might be easier.

Marilyn: It is Thanksgiving and I need help with getting the family to want to talk about Bobby.

Duane: One way that might work is to set a guideline so that everyone knows the discussion will be at a certain time and not throughout the weekend.

Marilyn: I am so sensitive to that so I do it during grace or family album time.

Duane: By saying to the family that you'd like to go through photo album for an hour, let's them know that there is a boundary, and gives you the opportunity to talk about Bobby. You have the right to want to include him, but they have the right to say how long. Then, if you need more time with Bobby, you can come up with a ritual; or quiet time just between you and him. Does that make sense? Marilyn, another idea might be to ask each of them to spend 20 minutes with you individually. That way you have a significant amount of time to talk.

Marilyn: I do that. I travel alot so every airport, gas station everywhere, I look for him. It is so foreign to think we are not a family of five. He is missed at all occasions. But I have such hope and it gets difficult when I hit so many road blocks.

Duane: It is difficult to think that you might be the only one who still hopes. This is why a professional may be more supportive right now than family, and that's not a negative statement about your family. They just seem to be in a different place.

Marilyn: I give them so very much of my time and remind them of his love for them.

Dee: Dee, grandmother of Nick, 18 yrs old at the time he disappeared on 3/26/03.There were reports of 2 sightings (unconfirmed) of him this past summer in WY. I thank God if it is him because it means he’s alive, but is he ok. I wonder all the time how does he survive & why doesn`t he call or come home, especially around holidays & birthdays.

Everyday not knowing is agonizing and the agony is compounded during these special seasons. I don`t really have a question here, I guess I just need some assurance or advice.

Duane: It is very difficult answering that question why? While it's good to know he's ok, you then start creating all sorts of reasons as to why he doesn't come home. The only thing you know for sure is that he's ok (if you trust the sightings) and on that you place your hope. The situation can always improve as long as he can make decisions. How do you include him in your holidays? Do you set a place or serve a favorite dish, etc?

Dee: I always have hope and in my heart I vision him alive. I appreciate your encouragement. While a possible sighting is encouraging, it is also very frustrating because you still have no answers.

Duane: Would it help to schedule time in the day to just 'talk' to him, by yourself, somewhere private?

Dee: We just pray. I do daydream and talk to him everyday.

Duane: That's a healthy thing to do. It's important to physically include him in the holiday in some way as well. He's already there in your heart, some physical representation
honors him.

Tony: Tony, husband of missing Lori, age 39 at time of disappearance, missing since 4/2/01, unknown circumstances. Still hopeful. We feel she may be in a hospital but that is only a theory.

I have heard people comment that the first couple of holidays without your missing loved one is most difficult but I have found that as the years press on, it gets more difficult to get into the Christmas spirit and to set up the Christmas tree and celebrate at all. Personally, this will be the 6th Christmas without my dear wife and the holidays are getting more and more unbearable. I tend to force myself to set up the tree & decorations mainly for the children. Can you please comment on this?

Duane: Your reaction is a common one. People try to convince you that it gets easier, but those are usually people who don't have the same experiences. It is important to maintain the rituals you have with her to honor her. However they can be modified. If it seems silly to decorate for you (if your kids are grown) then volunteer to help decorate city hall, or the church, or somewhere that many, many people will enjoy it.

If your kids are still young enough to be at home, The decorations can be different. Another thought is to decorate a tree as a family and take it to a hospital or nursing home so that someone who may be in the same situation as your wife is blessed with it. It's hard to face a holiday if there is no reason to do so. By doing things that help others, there is a reason.

Tony: The children are 14 and 20, My son, Tim, 14, loves xmas and the decorating, in fact he wants to start already. I forgot to mention now I have a grandaughter so that should get me going this year. Once I get going it is not as bad but it does hurt. We always have Lori's stocking up. Helping others has always been one of my ways to cope.

Duane: Great! Then you understand. The kids are old enough to allow them the full responsibility of decorating? That may be another approach.

Tony: We usually go to the Towne Hall as well to help with their tree.

Duane: You clearly are thinking along the same lines. What will give the holiday meaning for you personally?

Tony: Answers..... we need some. Also some understanding from family, some of them actually said, "we would understand if you wanted to see someone". The gall of them, Lori's nephew no less. We are still married!

Duane: Answers may not come by the holiday, but perhaps your statement 'we are still married' has an idea in it. Was there something you and Lori did on your first Christmas that might make this one special? Just a thought.

Trudy: Trudy, mother of Andy age 23 missing since 10/19/01. I feel so all alone all the time, things do not mean anything to me anymore I have a daughter who I know is suffering too because of her brother missing, but I can not talk to her, and my ex husband is always around. We are closer now because of Andy, but I can not talk to him either, I do not know what to do anymore to help out my son, I feel that I have to do something.

Duane: The holidays tend to make us feel even more overwhelmed and without a sense of direction. How old is your daughter, as in is she still living with you?

Trudy: Yes, she is she is going to be 26 in January, and she has three children one of them we named Andy. I cry all the time over stupid things, and the children ask what is wrong. I feel bad because of that. I heard songs that remind me of him and every person seems to look like him.

Duane: You probably already know, but I'll say it anyway, all of those are perfectly acceptable behaviors. Explaining to the kids is the tricky thing, but if you’re honest, they usually get it. How much do the grandchildren fill your life?

Trudy: I'm always with them, but yet sometimes I feel that I can not go on, I just want everything to go away and have peace, but not knowing anything about what happen to my son that night makes it even worse for me.

Duane: Yes, sometimes silence is what we want until it happens, and then it's just us and our thoughts, which may not be the best thing. I don't know what kinds of things you've tried in helping you cope; here's a couple of things.

Journaling is very important; not only to track your feelings, but also to help keep a chronology of how life has gone. One thing that happens after a while is the details get blurred. It's important to have a record, a history as a tribute so to speak. What about counseling? Maybe not a professional but a pastor or spiritual director, someone you trust?

Trudy: I am willing to try anything, but I can not bring myself to do things; it is very hard for me. I feel helpless and do not know where to start and I ask for help from others but they do not understand, and they do not really want to help.

Duane: Then perhaps just start to write the story. One other positive aspect of a 'journal' is that should he return, you have a living document that let's him see how much he was missed and loved.

Trudy: Thanks I will do that, I started a candle site for him and wrote in there everyday and that helped me, but that site was discontinued.

Cindy: Cindy, wife of Mark age 39 at time of disappearance, 11/29/05, unknown circumstances but also had a seizure disorder and we thought it might have been a medical problem, suffered from some depression over health problems.

Mark's brother has been very cruel to me in the past over Mark's disappearance and now I am going to have to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws. I say "have to" because I feel for the sake of our children. It's a better choice than a friend's house. I don't want to cause more family problems by not going. Mark's parents have been supportive but his siblings have been judgemental, and I am uncomfortable around them. Any thoughts on how to get me through the day?

Duane: Great question. First remember that people have different coping skills. Some need to lash out at someone because they’re angry. They usually lash out at the ones who remind them of the disappearance (in this case you). You have the choice of being angry at these folks and being more unhappy than you are, or looking at them as struggling to cope and using you as the mechanism.

Can you be strong enough for your children to do that? You also want to remember that your kids are learning from your behavior. What do you want them to learn from the interaction of the adults in this situation? Like it or not, you are their role model and your behavior teaches them how they are suppose to act in similar situations. Does framing it in this way make it a little more tolerable?

Cindy: Yes, I definitely want to heal the wounds for the sake of the children. Fortunately they have no idea how their uncle has treated me. It's difficult because now they not only lost a father but their uncle has been absent all year also. Of course I still have love for him and only when I think about all the things he said I get angry all over again. I know it doesn't do me any good to hold on to the anger but in a way I want to use keeping the kids away from him as punishment. I know it's not in their best interest.

Duane: Being a role model doesn't mean letting your self get walked on. If he is offensive during the day, there is value in calmly suggesting to him that his behavior is hurtful,
and you don't believe that you deserve it. If he continues, you have to decide the right course of action. However, the kids are watching you both. If what he has done in the past needs to be resolved, schedule a time to do that with him when the kids aren't present as they did not witness his hurtful behavior and it would seem out of context on Thanksgiving.

Cindy: I don't think, at least I hope, he will not make a scene that day. I know we have to get past it and I will take into consideration what you said about their ability to cope with our situation.

Paula: I am the mother of Rick, 23 years old at time of missing, 5-30-05. LE says homicide/suicide. I say "spontaneous combustion". I wish I could sleep until January 1st. I will "participate" in the activities around me but I REFUSE to decorate the house, etc, etc,. My husband is not willing to let me do this. But I can't do this. Is there a suggestion?

Duane: Help me clarify, your husband wants to decorate? Who else will benefit from the decorating/ Are there others living in your house?

Paula: My husband wants to decorate. My other 2 children will not be coming home for Christmas.

Duane: Wow, that makes it even worse. You probably already have figured out the second Christmas is often as difficult, if not more so than the first after they go missing. It's ok to participate to the extent possible, and unhealthy to go past that. It might be a good idea to sit and decide now just what you will and will not do when the holidays come so that everyone is aware ahead of time. You have the right to do what is healthy for you. Staying in bed is not. Doing everything you used to do for Christmas is not healthy either. Make your plan, and stick to it. Let others do the things that they want, even if you can't participate? Does that help any?

Paula: I don't even want to look at my house decorated!

Duane: What would be a fair compromise so that everyone's needs are as closely met as possible? Limit the area to be decorated?

Paula: I may be able to give him a 2 x2 foot area. But I will probably adjust. I know he understands what I want.

Duane: Well 2X2 is a start. I think you get what I meant. Everyone is affected, and everyone has a need to experience the holidays in the way that supports them. The key is to compromise, but not at the expense of yourself.

Paula: I will compromise.

Duane: I thank you all for allowing me to be part of this chat. I wish you all a good Thanksgiving. I don't mean this to sound like an ad, but as many of you know I host an internet talk show. The subject next Tuesday is “How do the Holidays Affect our Mental Well Being”. While it will not be specifically about families of missing, it might be helpful. ­ at 2pm Tuesday. Thanks again folks. Be well.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

11/18/06 It's Easy to Help the NCMA

Back in July, I wrote a piece about the financial troubles faced by the National Center for Missing Adults. (NCMA) They are still not out of the woods and the government funding (HR2103) that should have been in process still sits idle. The White House, has, at this time, ignored my request for answers.

For more information, please go back and read the original post here:

The NCMA has made it easier than ever to help by sending letters to our US Representatives, letting them know this issue is important and must be addressed!

Click on this link, fill out your contact information at the bottom, and click on "Submit Letter". This will take you less than 2 minutes to complete, but it could mean so much to the thousands of families of the missing in North America, past, present and future.

Thank you for helping.

11/18/06 Coping with the Holidays When Someone You Love is Missing, Part II

Coping with the Holiday Blues (Printed with permission from TEAM Hope)

The Holiday season is one of additional stress for everyone; emotionally, physically, financially. It is a time when, under ordinary circumstances, we have to pay extra attention to the feelings of others, and to our own feelings to best survive the season. If in addition to this we find ourselves facing the holidays when someone we love is missing, we wonder if and how we will survive.

People facing a painful holiday season sometimes try to ignore the holiday. They do their best to push the holiday out of their life, and try to act as if these days are just like any other day. Unfortunately, this approach often fails because the outside world forces us to recognize the holiday. Others in this situation accept the holidays, but try to act as if nothing is different. This fails too, because nearly every holiday activity will remind us of our missing loved one. While it is easy to understand why people would approach the holidays in one of these ways, we can also see that these approaches add even more stress to the situation; the added stress of shutting things out or acting as if.

A more healthy approach would be one which helps the family to openly validate that this is a different and painful holiday. We start by stating openly that while our loved one is missing physically, they are very present in our thoughts and hearts. We acknowledge that this emotional and mental presence is painful, but by verbalizing these thoughts and feelings, we strengthen the presence of our loved one with us.

By openly stating this, we give our family and friends permission to acknowledge their own feelings, and to talk about the one who is missing. We basically tell the family that it's ok to hurt, it's ok to cry, it's ok to miss our loved one, but more importantly, it's ok to talk about them and to acknowledge their presence in our hearts. We also strengthen their presence through activities and rituals we may create or continue through the holiday period.

Here are some questions regarding holidays ...

I feel the need to acknowledge my missing loved one during the holidays, but I don't know how, and am afraid.

Acknowledging your loved one is a wonderful and healthy idea. You may want to perform a simple ritual to honor your missing loved one. You may want to keep a ritual for yourself and share other rituals with your other family members and friends. It's okay to do both. If you acknowledge the missing person at the beginning of the holidays, it may be easier to move on and take what enjoyment you can from the rest of the time. You can set a place setting for them, light a candle, cook their favorite food, etc. Another way to acknowledge your loved one is to leave pictures and scrapbooks out at family gatherings for others to share, discuss and remember.

What are some concrete things I can do to take care of myself during this stressful time?

First remember the basics: proper diet, exercise and rest. Second stay with your feelings. Healthy grieving comes when we allow ourselves to let our feelings out. Don't waste your limited energy trying to contain them. Third, watch your spending. It's easy when grieving to go overboard - to try to buy relief from the pain. And fourth, ask for help when you need it - from family, friends, a counselor, Team H.O.P.E. volunteer (for families of missing children) and/or your higher power.

I feel out-of-sync with the rest of the world.

Although it appears that everyone else in the world is blissfully happy and looking forward to the holidays, many others are grieving too. They may be grieving a loved one's death, the end of a relationship or of a job. Or, they may be struggling with an uncertain future because of illness. Most of us share a myth about the holidays - they are supposed to be filled only with love and joy - whereas, for many of us, this is simply not reality. So, although your feelings of being out-of-sync are real, it helps to remember that you're not alone - many others are struggling too. Sometimes 'sync' is an illusion of how things should be, rather than how they really are.

I'm afraid I'll spoil it for everyone else.

Although this fear is understandable, most friends and family will understand that this is a particularly difficult time for you. Some of them are no doubt grieving too. Most of the people close to you will want to help you in whatever way they can. It's up to you to let them know how to do this. After all, the holidays are a time for giving and your family and friends want to know how they can best give to you. Think how you'd feel if the roles were reversed.

I don't know how to handle my old traditions.

This is a time to plan ahead, be reasonable and keep it simple. By planning ahead you can decide what traditions you want to continue and what ones you want to replace. You have the right to decide what you want to do and when you want to do it or when you don't want to do it, without apology. It is also a time for creating new traditions to include the missing loved one in ways that were not needed before. If there are other close family members involved, include them in the discussion and decision making - it's their holiday too. Don't be afraid to change, to keep it simple and to let others know your plans and limits.

As we all know, helping others is good for an aching heart. Volunteer your time, whether it's with a shelter, an old age home... acts of kindness are a good way of coping.

Basics of Coping with the Blues:

Maintain a normal routine, or as close as possible.
Try and continue with normal activities.
Be sure to get enough sleep or at least rest if sleeping is difficult.
Regular exercise, even walking, helps relieve stress and tension and improve moods.
Maintain a balanced diet. Watch out for the temptation to eat high calorie "junk" and comfort foods.
Alcohol should be used in moderation, not to mask the pain. Alcohol can also contribute to feeling depressed.
Take it one hour at a time, one day at a time.
Do those activities, or be with the people that comfort, sustain, nourish and recharge you.

Remember other times in the past when you have experienced loss and the strategies used to survive the loss.

Remember, there is no right way to cope or wrong way - just your way.

11/18/06 Coping with the Holidays When Someone You Love is Missing, Part I

This is a piece about dealing with the holidays written for TEAM Hope and republished with permission. You may find it helpful. (This may also be helpful for someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one through death.)

Circumstances and situations do color life. But you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.

Helpful thoughts and insights about the grief process and coping with the holidays:

People respond to grief and loss in different ways. Each person's experience of the loss, like each grief experience, will be unique. Everyone has their own way of coping.

Recognize the differences in coping styles and allow people to have their own way of expressing grief, unless the methods become self-destructive. It may be helpful to explain to family and friends how you are choosing to cope.

Be aware that it can be difficult for spouses and families experiencing the same loss to understand how different grief responses can occur. Respect the differences.

Allow yourself to feel and express sadness, anger or loneliness. The holidays do not eliminate the reasons for feeling these emotions and they may overstress your feelings.

For most people it is important to find a balance between honoring past traditions associated with the lost loved one and developing new ones. Some traditions may be too painful to continue. You can begin new traditions in memory of the loved one lost as solution to deciding whether to celebrate past traditions. Alternatively you can start brand new holiday traditions to reflect the change or the passage of time.

It is important to carefully consider any changes in traditions and make conscious decisions about how to handle them. If appropriate make it a family decision. Explain the changes to other family members and friends.

Plan a remembrance or find a special way of honoring the loved one lost:

Share favorite stories or memories about the person who has died.
Serve that person's favorite food or holiday dish.
Offer a toast, or say a prayer at the start of a family meal.
Hang a special ornament.
Listen to their favorite music.
Light a candle.
Hang a stocking for the loved one.
Let people include notes of remembrance.
Look at photos or videos from past holidays.
Plant a tree.
Establish a scholarship.
Dedicate a bench or plaque.
Adopt a needy family or donate to a homeless or animal shelter for the holidays.
Donate the money that would have been spent on a gift to their favorite cause.
Publish an ad in the local paper.
Write letters or a journal to the loved one to express your feelings.

Explore other ways of "Creatively Expressing Grief" Find a new way of celebrating—observe the holidays in a new place.

Volunteer. Helping others can be very healing. There are many worthy organizations that could use your time or the money.

Take time to care for yourself, to be alone with your thoughts, in remembrance or in prayer.

Many find solace in their religious beliefs and/or spiritual connections. Talk with clergy, spiritual counselors. Attend a service. Try to stay in the present and look to the future rather than dwelling on the past. Reflect on what is significant to you and still positive about life.

While it’s normal for the holidays and other special occasions to intensify feelings of sadness and loneliness, it’s important to take special notice of physical and emotional changes. Watch your referrals for persisting or maladaptive grief responses to their loss. To help yourselves, please ask a friend or relative to be mindful and notice if you are exhibiting any persistent or acute responses to our loss.

When to Be Concerned:

The Holiday Blues tend to be short-lived lasting a few days to a few weeks around the holiday season. The emotions—sadness, loneliness, depression, anxiety—usually subside after the holidays once a daily routine is resumed. However, if the symptoms of hopelessness and depression last for more than two weeks, persist past the holidays, or intensify during the season, a simple case of the blues may really be a case of clinical depression.

Concerning symptoms include:

Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
Sleeping too much or too little, middle-of-the night or early morning waking
Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
Irritability or restlessness
Difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering or making decisions
Fatigue or loss of energy
Thoughts of death or suicide
Feeling inappropriate guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness

A person experiencing the blues consistently over several weeks should seek professional help from physicians, mental healthcare providers, clergy, crisis lines, support groups, or mental health centers. Talking with a professional or taking a mental health screening test can help assess whether it's the blues or depression. Those with suicidal thoughts or ideation need to seek immediate care with their physician, crisis line or the nearest hospital emergency department.
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