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Featured this Month:

Keeper of Memories
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
I’d like to extend some brief thoughts about family grief through the holidays. There is a lot written on the subject to be found on the internet and various bereavement books. No wonder, because holiday traditions have “normal” and “what we always do” baked into them. When a loved one central to the family has died from suicide, these days can be approached with perhaps too much hope that they will help us feel better, or only dread or confusion. No holiday can ever be the same without our loved one, and if we try to approximate tradition, the absence is glaring. How can bereaved families work toward a sense of togetherness while enduring the charged up messages that the holiday season promotes?

Even with young children it is possible to openly acknowledge that the holidays will feel different without the person we loved and lost. An informal conversation, even one that is brief, might elicit feelings and attitudes about what lies ahead. Everyone’s input can be affirmed as you try to decide together a plan of action: Decorate the house, or not? Take a family vacation away from home? Create some new, different traditions? And yet, efforts at coming together regarding your family’s holiday grief process may not yield the kind of fruitful conversation that the TV Walton’s would have. It is not unusual when youngsters and teens don’t want to talk about their loss or the changes that are a consequence, and the apathy they might show can feel discouraging for parents who feel responsible for offering some kind of meaningful holiday experience. What is needed is acknowledgment that talking through, and coming up with a plan is not for everyone. It can feel impossible to express thoughts and feelings when the magnitude of the loss is great. And decisions can be very difficult for grieving people, no matter the age, representing some kind of commitment that is not supported by energy. Although we hear and read about protocols for healthy grieving, newly bereaved families have no normal. Better to gently witness our children’s grief responses this holiday with flexibility and low expectations.

And yet, the holidays demand some kind of response. You will find articles and chapters about making ornaments dedicated to the memory of the person who died, creating food that he or she loved, adding flowers or a picture at the table place-setting, participation in a memory circle or watching family videos. Or not. Be prepared for some sad or strained or empty moments. Your oldest might withdraw with the phone or TV while the younger ones react to gifts like nothing ever happened. You, the caregiver and keeper of memories, will observe the odd juxtaposition of young life and life-changing loss, the meaning of place, the relentless approach of the holiday and the awareness that some things (and relatives) never change… and the holiday’s transience. Because so much of grief’s pain is resistance to the loss, allowing, rather than resisting the non-normal, and with a loving eye, whatever presents among kids, relatives, dog and cat on the holiday can support everyone in moving through. In one family the young ones stretched lights straight across the table. Chicken nuggets were on the menu. The TV, alas, was on. There were some gifts, and grandparents came over. The day passed, benign. A mother who had lost one of her children noted later that she had learned to love her grief because the tiniest joy struck her awareness as it had not before. Grief can grow our aliveness over time after we have survived the unthinkable.

Think about the power of touch, of a knowing glance, of asking what your child prefers at any moment during the day while you are together. These gestures can be empowering to you and supportive to your children. Let them know ahead of time that the first holidays without your loved one are an experiment, that everyone’s comfort is a priority, that every person has a right to just be themselves. Finally, maybe at the end of it all, young and old might notice a sustaining love that kept them safe from the holiday’s tyranny to be “happy.” Be gentle, keep it simple.




Archives:

Keeper of Memories
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
I’d like to extend some brief thoughts about family grief through the holidays. There is a lot written on the subject to be found on the internet and various bereavement books. No wonder, because holiday traditions have “normal” and “what we always do” baked into them. When a loved one central to the family has died from suicide, these days can be approached with perhaps too much hope that they will help us feel better, or only dread or confusion. No holiday can ever be the same without our loved one, and if we try to approximate tradition, the absence is glaring. How can bereaved families work toward a sense of togetherness while enduring the charged up messages that the holiday season promotes?

Even with young children it is possible to openly acknowledge that the holidays will feel different without the person we loved and lost. An informal conversation, even one that is brief, might elicit feelings and attitudes about what lies ahead. Everyone’s input can be affirmed as you try to decide together a plan of action: Decorate the house, or not? Take a family vacation away from home? Create some new, different traditions? And yet, efforts at coming together regarding your family’s holiday grief process may not yield the kind of fruitful conversation that the TV Walton’s would have. It is not unusual when youngsters and teens don’t want to talk about their loss or the changes that are a consequence, and the apathy they might show can feel discouraging for parents who feel responsible for offering some kind of meaningful holiday experience. What is needed is acknowledgment that talking through, and coming up with a plan is not for everyone. It can feel impossible to express thoughts and feelings when the magnitude of the loss is great. And decisions can be very difficult for grieving people, no matter the age, representing some kind of commitment that is not supported by energy. Although we hear and read about protocols for healthy grieving, newly bereaved families have no normal. Better to gently witness our children’s grief responses this holiday with flexibility and low expectations.

And yet, the holidays demand some kind of response. You will find articles and chapters about making ornaments dedicated to the memory of the person who died, creating food that he or she loved, adding flowers or a picture at the table place-setting, participation in a memory circle or watching family videos. Or not. Be prepared for some sad or strained or empty moments. Your oldest might withdraw with the phone or TV while the younger ones react to gifts like nothing ever happened. You, the caregiver and keeper of memories, will observe the odd juxtaposition of young life and life-changing loss, the meaning of place, the relentless approach of the holiday and the awareness that some things (and relatives) never change… and the holiday’s transience. Because so much of grief’s pain is resistance to the loss, allowing, rather than resisting the non-normal, and with a loving eye, whatever presents among kids, relatives, dog and cat on the holiday can support everyone in moving through. In one family the young ones stretched lights straight across the table. Chicken nuggets were on the menu. The TV, alas, was on. There were some gifts, and grandparents came over. The day passed, benign. A mother who had lost one of her children noted later that she had learned to love her grief because the tiniest joy struck her awareness as it had not before. Grief can grow our aliveness over time after we have survived the unthinkable.

Think about the power of touch, of a knowing glance, of asking what your child prefers at any moment during the day while you are together. These gestures can be empowering to you and supportive to your children. Let them know ahead of time that the first holidays without your loved one are an experiment, that everyone’s comfort is a priority, that every person has a right to just be themselves. Finally, maybe at the end of it all, young and old might notice a sustaining love that kept them safe from the holiday’s tyranny to be “happy.” Be gentle, keep it simple.