It has been a while since I wrote a new blog. I have thought about it on a number of occasions and had some interesting ideas about things that needed to be said. I haven't written anything and now we are in the week between Christmas and The New Year. Holidays are difficult times for grieving families especially when there are children involved. A good deal has been written about how to deal with the first holiday after a death and what to do from then on However, I don't think it is ever too late to write something about occasions which usually are times of joy and celebration. They are never easy, but nonetheless they are here and often difficult to avoid. It was Christmas, it could be an anniversary, or a birthday. Honoring the deceased and filling the empty space created by the death does not come naturally. This may be a time when your imagination can serve you well. What works for others may not work for you; but it is always a good idea to learn about what others are doing. It can stimulate you and sometimes make the unreal, real. The best I can do is share some of what I have learned from families who have found a way that gives them some peace and in the long run, even some pleasure.
One of my favorite ways in which one family remember their now dead teen age son reminds me how creative we can be. This young man was always worried that there should be a gift for everyone of his friends and every family member. As he got older, he worked hard to earn enough money to make this happen. His parents asked everyone on his list to buy a gift for a homeless child. These gifts were then taken to a homeless shelter for the children there. His younger siblings were active participants. They each bought a gift for a child and went to the shelter to help their parents distribute the gifts. They were given in their son's name. In this way his parents honored his memory and his life and it gave Christmas a special meaning to them. Their younger children, as they have gotten older, see that this giving remains part of their Christmas.
One family developed a very creative way of remembering. On her husband's birthday his widow and her children go to the cemetery where they sing happy birthday, share a birthday cake and send a birthday balloon into the air. They talk about some of what has happened in the family during the past year. They then go to their father's favorite ice cream parlor for some ice cream. On each birthday, as the children get older and can understand more about who died, they learn something new about their father.
There is no fixed way to do things. We need to keep in mind that with grief comes change . As children mature and the family system shifts and changes, ways of remembering and honoring the deceased may change as well. Each family finds their own way. For many families religious traditions can help as well.
As I thought more about writng in this holiday period I began to think about the coming new year and what resolutions I see related to "raising grieving children". I began to think beyond the individual family to our larger community. I thought about how we talk about grief in our community, what support, what help needs to be available and when in a grieving child's life. I came back to the grieving child when I received an e-mail from a colleague living across the country who I had not heard from in some time.
My colleague had given a copy of "A Parent's Guide To Raising Grieving Children" to a client whose sister had died when she was a child. This is what she wrote me:
" I want you to know what a huge effect your book had on my client. We had been working successfully, bit by bit, on her phobias and anxieties as a parent. But your book made the biggest difference to her. She finally "got it". She understood now how little help she had had and how much that help had been needed. She had disassociated her feelings and plowed on (successfully) in her life, leaving much of her real self behind. She talked now about becoming herself at last, having never wanted to go to the "dark place" of grief. Noticing that she was finally able to be relaxed in social gatherings, she explained today " That was easy": I assume that she means by it being easy is that she lost her fear of her grief, in a way she had not anticipated.
For the new year I think we need to give more attention to the way grief is seen in our community, not as something to avoid and be afraid of, but as part of living. We need to ensure that we are all available to help each other as we move through the life cycle.