survival tips for family gatherings
SURVIVAL TIPS FOR FAMILY GATHERINGS
Well, it’s official. We’re in the Holidays. And here’s another ‘How to Survive the Holidays’ blog. Go ahead – scream! Yet, maybe, this one can encourage you.
This is not about grieving through Christmas, or how to deal with all the broken relationships. No. I would rather tackle the traditions of Christmas. So go ahead and scream again.
In a non-scientific poll, I asked people what they thought about how to cope through the three sacred festivals (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter). Here are a few comments that came up:
The last is my favorite. The designated driver, that is.
It also dawned on me that two of these holidays are supposed to be sacred, and I didn’t get one sacred comment on how to manage the holidays, such as “pray before you go”, etc.
So then, how do we cope with traditions and culture which seem to be practiced but not understood? Here are some thoughts.
It has become amazingly clear since recent events in Winnipeg that a lot of our city has been dealing with grief. There have been multiple deaths covered by the media recently, but there have also been many that have not; one is no more important than the other. Our city has seen some unfortunate and public loss, yet there are many families who are quietly struggling with their grief.
The reality is that death affects us all. As a grief counsellor and a person who has experienced personal, traumatic loss, I would like to provide some tips on how to encourage and support someone who has recently experienced the death of a loved one.
First, let me begin with the phrases you should avoid…
Comments such as, “our prayers and thoughts are with you,” are generally not well received at this time; particularly if the person who is receiving this comment knows that you don’t pray (or think, for that matter) it will come across as superficial.
The well-meaning, but conflicting, “How are you doing?”
This may seem like an appropriate and caring way to greet someone, however a person who is grieving will think and want to respond with, “I just buried my son, how the #%@* do you think I am doing?!” Most people will refrain and chose a more polite response, but we can almost guarantee they weren’t thinking it.
And finally, “Well, you know… his spirit is with you.”
This comment is said with intent to comfort, but if you have ever lost someone, these words tend to bring a maddening frustration rather than comfort. A person overwhelmed in grief is only wishing their loved one was present in the physical, not the spiritual.
Alternatively, here are some suggestions that over the years I have learned are well received and appreciated.
Don’t talk, do.
Actions speak louder than words at any given time; in a period of grief, this is truer than ever. Ask a specific question, such as, “Can I take your funeral clothes to the drycleaner?” or, “Can I cook you dinner this Thursday?” Unfortunately, the entire world does not stop turning just because theirs did, any assistance that helps them survive through the first few weeks and months will not go unappreciated.
Talk about the weather.
It sounds cliché, but give it a try; for example, “Hi Peter, it is great to see you! It is a warm and sunny day.” It is awkward but it works. Using a person’s name in conversation is a powerful tool; it subconsciously reassures them that they are important to you. Also, for just a second, you have distracted them by talking about the weather, which is a positive and welcome break for their mind.
It is okay for you to say how much you miss the person who is now gone. How I longed for someone to say, “I miss him too.” Because that was where I was at; lost, shattered and heart wrenchingly missing him… And I needed people who were courageous enough to reach into that dark hole where I was stuck.
When we find ourselves on a grief journey it is completely overwhelming and difficult to navigate without a guide. Grief counselling can be that guide, and it is so valuable. Go for it, take that next step and call.