Family vacations are one of our most cherished traditions as Americans. The camping trip, the road trip, the beach vacation, the Europe trip - whatever it may be, families have been getting out of town together for many years.
“The Getaway,” as we love to refer to it, is always an event that evokes excitement, adventure, fun and mystery. But what do you do when you’ve recently lost a family member? Do you uphold the tradition? Do you change the tradition? Paula Shaw, grief expert talks about ways to enjoy your summer, keep those cherished memories alive, but not become prisoner to them.
Any holiday or family tradition that occurs after you have lost a loved one is going to be tough. I am not just talking about death or just the human members of the family. If someone has moved away or a new job doesn’t allow their attendance on the vacation, the loss is still present. And if the family dog or cat has always gone along and this time it’s not possible, this loss will also be felt at a deep level.
Our family used to go to a cabin on Silver Lake in the Sierras. We had the same cabin every year at the same time and so did the other families. Consequently, we all got to be friends. Our cabin neighbors Duane and Terry and their boys always brought their dog, Annie with them on vacation. This dog was truly their furry four-legged child. She was deeply loved by everybody.
I will never forget the year the resort rules changed and Annie was no longer allowed on the property. Duane and Terry couldn’t bring themselves to leave her home, so they started vacationing at a nearby resort that allowed dogs. They just couldn’t conceive of a family vacation without her.
Not so long ago, I saw them and came to learn that Annie had died. They were having their first vacation without her and they were clearly experiencing gut-wrenching pain. My heart broke for them.
If life should ever put you in a similar circumstance, the first suggestion I have is to try to do something different than you have done year after year with that being present. The place in which annual memories have been made over a long period of time is not going to be an easy place to be.
Another thing that is very important is allowing everybody to talk openly about how it feels to be on vacation with someone important missing. This might sound simple or obvious but I can’t tell you how many times clients have talked about similar circumstances and said that no one talked about the pain of the present reality. Often people don’t want to bum everybody out so they don’t discuss the painful reality that they are experiencing. It’s the old elephant in the middle of the living room scenario. Listen, everyone is feeling the pain, so not talking about it only adds the stress of wearing the I’m fine face and keeping up the facade.
Sometimes, it can actually be very healing to have a kind of ritual wherein you might do something like lighting a candle and passing it around the circle, having each person talk about their favorite memory of the person or animal that is no longer there. Again, we are invoking healing through the expression of truth.
At this point it seems appropriate to bring up the subject of children. Let’s not forget that they are feeling beings. Often times parents don’t discuss the sad reality of someone loved not being there because they don’t want to upset the children. After nearly 25 years of counseling those children, years later, I can tell you unequivocally that you don’t serve their wellbeing with that sort of behavior. All you do is prevent them from feeling it’s okay to talk about the sadness that they are feeling. And they won’t bring it up because they think that if they do, they will be upsetting you and obviously you don’t want to talk about it, because you haven’t. You see what I am saying? Everybody is trying to protect everybody and nobody wins.
My friend Dianna Bonny did one of the best jobs I know of handling this kind of thing when she lost her husband to suicide leaving her with three shocked, terrified children. She gathered them together and with no timeline, schedule or agenda, she basically said, “Let’s talk.” And they kept that dialogue going until everyone’s needs were met.
Okay, let’s review and see what we can do to help ourselves if circumstances like the above should arise.
1. Try to take a different kind of vacation or go to a new place that isn’t fraught with memories.
2. Be open to talking about the emotional pain of being without the person/animal that was so loved and who is now so missed.
3. Don’t try to do all of the same things that you always did with the loved one who is now missing.
4. Have some sort of a ritual acknowledging the person or animal and the reality that now exists, while also honoring what was. (e.g. sharing memories of when they were present, expressing sadness that they're not there.)
5. If children are involved still do all of the above. Pretending doesn’t help anyone heal.
Let’s be real, if you have lost an important person or animal in your life, no matter where you go, there will still be moments of missing them and feeling very sad. What I find is most helpful when something like this happens to me, is to do a couple of things:
1. Acknowledge the pain. Cry, talk, pound on pillows, scream, whatever you need to do.
2. After you have given yourself time to emote, you can use a release technique that will actually help you move the emotional energy through the system and out of the body. One of my favorites is called PEP and it’s very simple. You can see a video of me doing it if you click on the link and open the video called PEP.
We humans don’t like change and loss creates a giant dose of upheaval and change. Once that change has occurred, it has impact on many levels. The summer getaway is one of the most difficult experiences because it is usually about fun and joy. We all need a getaway and Lord knows that we all need fun and joy but may I say loudly and clearly that if that is not where you really are, pretending could have a hefty cost. Express what is real and you will give others permission to do the same. We heal through experiencing the truth of our circumstance not through a pretense.
If you have stories or thoughts you would like to share regarding this life experience, please respond to this blog. Maybe you found the perfect way to handle the situation and it worked beautifully for your family. Please share with the rest of us.
Until next time…
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PAULA SHAW, CADC, DCEP is an author, Energy Psychology specialist, therapist, speaker, Reiki Master and Grief Counselor. For more than 20 years, Paula has been passionate about empowering people who are dealing with profound loss, so they can reap something truly beautiful from their pain. She also helps clients who are going through major life transitions or seeking freedom from self-destructive addictions. She has degrees in Education and Communications from Long Beach State University, as well as graduate counseling credentials from Loyola Marymount University. She is one of the founding members of the Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology and currently serves on its board of directors. Paula is the author of Chakras, the Magnificent Seven (2002), as well as "Grief...When Will This Pain Ever End?" Finding Your Way out of the Pit of Despair After Profound Loss.
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Thank you for reading Paula's Blog. Because our site moved in June, we were unable to transfer all of our blog posts over. You can however, read the rest of them by visiting our old blog site. HERE