December 21, 2006: Dealing With The Holidays: Susan Van Vleck

DECEMBER 21, 2006 ? DEALING WITH THE HOLIDAYS: SUSAN VAN VLECK.? Following the death of her 19-year-old son, Marc, in 1992, Susan Van Vleck was looking for meaning.? Marc?s death motivated Susan to graduate with honors from Kennesaw State University receiving a degree in Sociology and Human Services.? She has attended several American Academy of Bereavement seminars.? Susan has been a facilitator for Good Grief, a six-week program based on Granger Westberg?s book Good Grief and was a Promina Northwest Hospice Volunteer in Marietta, Georgia, for two years.? She is also a National Board Member for The Compassionate Friends.? Susan knows this isn?t the life you planned, but it is the life you have.? Please join us for a look at your life and your future.? More...
Susan Van Vleck:? Our son, Marc, was 19, and he had just finished his first year at Georgia Tech and was home for the summer, and he was killed within a mile of our house while taking a friend home.? The guys had been at our house watching movies that night, and a couple of hours later, a couple of police officers came to our door, and that was back when I was na?ve and didn?t realize that was a death notification call.? And from there, the world just kind of turned upside down.? Exploded.? And I began living a life that I hadn?t planned for.
Susan Van Vleck:? In our family, it seems that there?s roles that we play.? No matter if we are having dinner together, the interaction, there?s always somebody that?s making it light, or laughing, and somebody that is keeping it on tack, and one of the most difficult things that we had to do was to think about Christmas decorating.?
Susan Van Vleck:? The first Christmas after Marc had died, we mailed our cards out the day after Thanksgiving asking our family and friends to write a special time or memory that they had of Marc and send it with their Christmas cards and also when Marc?s friends would stop by, we would have pen and paper and ask them if they?d like to write something and let them put it in Marc?s stocking.? And that?s what we did with those that came in the mail.? And then on Christmas morning, we sat around the Christmas tree and we took turns reading all these wonderful memories that we had that people shared with us.? Some things we didn?t know about and we laughed and cried and it was like having Marc with us that morning.? It was so special.
Susan Van Vleck:? I was angry at God, not the person that caused Marc?s death.? It was God.? How could he allow him to die?? And I kept that quiet for a long time because I felt like a hypocrite because I would pray for his strength and courage to face another day but I was also telling him in prayer how angry I was at him, and I was talking to the church chaplain one day and it just came out.? I said I feel really guilty, but I?m angry with God.? And he said that God has big shoulders and that he knows what?s in my heart, and by me being angry with God shows that I have a strong faith and relationship with God and he just encouraged me to work it out with him through prayer and journaling.?
Susan Van Vleck:? John Lennon wrote, ?Life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans.?
Susan Van Vleck:? I think that?s the hardest part about grief is finding the coping skills so that we can incorporate the loss into our life and move forward.? It takes a long long time.? Ongoing.? It?s like we have to give ourselves permission to do what we can do.
Susan Van Vleck:? The anticipation leading up to those special days are more difficult than the day itself, and I think that it helps if you have a plan for how you’re going to spend that day, celebrate that day, whether it?s Christmas or your child?s birthday.? You need to have a plan.?
Susan Van Vleck:? Just sit down as a family and decide what traditions are most important that they want to do this year and maybe someone can?t do.? The majority would have to rule.? And then maybe they would bring in that tradition the following year if they could.
Susan Van Vleck:? Everyone deals with grief differently whether we?re male, female, how far along we are in our grief.? There?s so many different components to that.? Just give yourself permission that if you don?t keep your happy face on all day and you do cry, tell yourself it?s okay.
Susan Van Vleck:? Leading up to the holiday, taking my journal, sitting out next to Marc?s grave, and writing, and talking, and praying, and crying to get that relief, to get some of this to prepare for the holidays.?
Susan Van Vleck:? One is getting enough rest, because with all the things that we have to do for the holidays, in addition to just a regular day, it just really takes a toll on our body, and I believe that grief assaults our body, mind, soul, and spirit.? It?s just very difficult on us.? So we need to rest and sometimes we can?t sleep but at least if we can lay down and be quiet and close our eyes, it?s very important to have nutritious food.? Eat good healthy food, not empty calories.? Drink lots of water because here you?re dehydrating.
Susan Van Vleck:? Take a walk around the block to get some fresh air.? Doing a little exercise.? Quiet time for writing in a journal.? Listen to some nice music, your favorite soothing music.? Light a candle.? To me, that always represents Marc is with me.? When I sometimes go in my room to work with the computer, I light a candle because I want to invite and know that Marc is with me.
Susan Van Vleck:? I think it?s okay if we change our regular tradition from what we?ve had in the past because there?s no right or wrong way to grieve but there?s also no right or wrong way to spend the holiday.? If you?ve always opened your gifts on Christmas Day, you might want to do them Christmas Eve.? Attend Christmas services maybe at a different time at your church or at a different church.? Let the children take over decorating the tree or invite friends in to help.? Have your holiday meal at a different time.? It?s okay to change it up.? Decide if you want to stay home or go away for the holidays.? And one of the things with the family pow-wow is that the discussion or question would be whether or not you want to talk openly about the one that has gone because for some people it?s very difficult.
Susan Van Vleck:? Allow yourself tears and also give yourself permission to laugh if it happens.? It?s okay because both laughter and tears are healing for us.? I mean I felt guilty, I remember, the first time I laughed.? But it?s good for your body to laugh and cry.? And those who cannot bring tears, I wish them healing tears because it?s important to release that stuff and over time we find our way to do that through writing.? You need to tell your story 25 times.? Paint.? Write poetry.? There?s just a way that you need to express the pain and the loss.

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