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