HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
Dealing with the Holidays
Hosts:? Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley
With guest:? Susan Van Vleck
December 21, 2006
G:?Hello.? I?m Dr. Gloria Horsley with my co-host
H:?Dr. Heidi Horsley.
G:?Each week we welcome you to Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and conversation with those who have suffered the loss of a loved one and for health care professionals who work in this most difficult field.? And as always the message is others have been there before you and made it, you do not walk alone.? If you?re listening to our Thursday live Internet show, please join Heidi and me on the show by calling our toll free number 1-866-472-5792 with questions or comments regarding the losses in your life.? These shows are archived on our blog, www.thegriefblog.com, as well as www.compassionatefriends.org website.? They can also be accessed through www.health.voiceamerica.com.? All the shows can also be downloaded on Itunes and if you go to our website, www.thegriefblog.com, you?ll find that we have transcripts of all our shows so you can listen to them and follow along, or I know some of our folks don?t have speakers on their computers, and you can read the shows.? Heidi, we?ve got a great guest today, Susan Van Vleck.? Susan serves on the board of Compassionate Friends with me and when I thought of somebody to do a show for the holidays, I thought of Susan because she?s just a great gal and I?m looking forward to having her on to talk about the holidays.
H:?Very good.? It should be a good show.
G:?Before we get started with that, I wanted to talk to you all a little bit and tell you some of my experiences and some things that Heidi and I and our family are going through right now during the holidays.? Twenty-three years ago when our son and Heidi?s brother, Scott, was killed in an automobile accident in April and I was the ? I had a Master?s degree in nursing and I was teaching at the University of Rochester.? Part of my role was that I wore a beeper and all of the surgical service nurses could call me to come over to the surgical service and help people who were having difficulties.? Well, it was December, so it was a few months after Scott had died, and it was about 4 o?clock in the afternoon on a Friday, and Christmas was coming up, and you can imagine I was feeling pretty low as I know a lot of you folks are out there, and I thought, I don?t know how I?m going to get through this.? So my beeper went off.? I went over to the surgical service.? I went in and there was an older lady there and she had her knee up in a brace and she had had surgery and I walked in the room and it was funny because she seemed to be fine and she just looked at me, and I thought, hm, I wonder what I?m doing here?? And in the course of talking to her a little bit, I started telling her about Scott?s death in April, and this is highly inappropriate and I?m thinking I never do this.? I don?t know what?s going on.? Told her that he had been killed in an automobile accident, and she looked at me, and she said, Gloria, I lost seven children in a fire fifteen years ago.? If I made it through, you can, too.
H:?Wow.? Seven kids.? That?s amazing.
G:?And when I left that room, I just thought, what a gift.? What a gift I?d been given that holiday season.? And I do want to talk a little bit about the gifts.? I want to tell you a little bit about what?s going on with our family right now because I think that?s a helpful thing to understand what others are going through because I know you?re going through a lot during the holidays.? My husband had back surgery, Heidi?s dad, and we?ve planned a big ? it was emergency back surgery last week.? We planned a huge family event in Hawaii this year for Christmas, and it looks very much at this point like we?re not going to be able to make it to this holiday event, and, you know, at first, we were feeling very traumatic about it.? My husband is traumatized and very upset.? The girls are just hearing about it now, and it?s, um, you know.? The expectation that we would be able to do that, and I had a hard time.? Then I thought back on what we?ve been through and I thought, you know what, it?s the expectation.? Life happens, right, Heid?
G:?And there?s not a lot of control you have over it except for the now, and I wanted to give you this little poem, one of those little sayings, and I?m sure many of you may have heard it, but I think it?s a great one for the holidays, and it is that the past is history, the future?s a mystery, and the gift is now, and that?s why we call it the present.
H:?Right.? That?s all we have.? And all we have is the present right now.
G:?Yeah, and so I?m dealing with the present.? Maybe everybody will be off without us.? Heidi will be off with her kids.? Rebecca and our other daughter.? Everybody will be going to Hawaii and Phil and I, we may be at the hospital.? I have no idea, but I know, and I know for you, that there are going to be gifts that come out of this, and I will have daily gifts, but if I let my own desires get in the way and my own agenda, then I?ll miss those gifts.
H:?Absolutely, and the people ? and we?re all, you know the people that we?ve loved and lost will be with us in our memories and in our hearts and we?re going to talk a lot today about how to embrace those people and things we can do to bring them into our lives during the holidays.? So like you said, mom, I mean, our attitude on Christmas is all that we really can control.? That?s what Victor Franko was always saying.? He was saying life is out of our control.? But we do have control of our attitudes.? One of the only things we do have control over, and I think I?ve told you before, but I have something on my refrigerator written by Joseph Campbell that I love.? It says, you must be willing to give up the life that we have planned so that we can embrace the life that is waiting for us because we don?t have control oftentimes over things.
G:?Absolutely.? So, we?ve got a wonderful guest today, and let?s.? Heidi, why don?t you introduce her and let?s talk a little bit about dealing with the holidays.
H:?Very good.? Okay.? Our guest today is Susan K. Van Vleck, and our topic is Dealing with the Holidays.? 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.? Welcome to the show, Susan.
S:?Thank you, Heidi.? Good morning, Gloria.
G:?Good morning, Susan.? It?s great to have you on the show.? Could you tell our audience a little bit about your loss and your son?
S:?Well, we were living in Georgia at the time, and 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.
G:?So tell us a little bit.? Do you remember your first holiday?? Your first Christmas holiday, or for those folks who don?t celebrate Christmas, their first holiday?
S:?Yeah.? Marc was killed in July so this was in a few months.? At least I had a few months, but I remember just dreading the day because Marc always loved Christmas, and 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, you know, is keeping it on tack, and one of the most difficult things that we had to do was to think about Christmas decorating.? Christmas music started.
G:?That anticipation, right?
S:?Yes.? Very difficult.? And even that first year, I found that I had to decorate Marc?s grave.? Put out a Christmas tree for him and a poinsettia, and a little snowman, which is something that signifies Marc to me growing up in Kansas.? We built a snowman together and he always loved it.? But I had to do that first before I could even think about doing it at home.? So right after Thanksgiving, we decorated Marc?s grave, and we set up a couple of different appointments that we were going to decorate our tree.? Our older son, David, was going to college and working and had a girlfriend and a social life, and so it was difficult to hit at the same time.? We had missed two dates that we set up and finally it was December 20th, and I said, you know, if we don?t get it done tonight, it?s just not going to get done.? And I think that we kept putting it off because like Frank, my husband, would always string the lights.? And David was very good about setting up, getting all the music, Christmas music he went and played while we were decorating the tree, and then I was opening boxes that we had.? Every year I made ornaments for my boys and then, of course, their ornaments they made in grade school.
G:?Right, so we have all those little reminders around which are bittersweet.
H:?With their names on em and everything, yeah.
G:?Yeah, getting those things out the first time can be really heart-rendering in some ways.? But in some ways, it makes you feel good, especially after all these years.? We just put up this
H:?I was going to say, mom, I think the first year I felt nothing but pain when I saw all those bulbs and ornaments with Scott?s name on em or that he had made as a kid.? As the years go on, now I feel comfort in the fact that we have those.
G:?My five-year-old grandson got the ornaments out this year and I was telling him the names and he said, who?s Scott?
H:?Wow.? And also, you know, Susan, you?re talking about roles which is such a big part of it.? I mean, my brother being the only boy and the strongest one in the family, his job was to put up our tree and put up the lights and that was a giant role and he would put up the tree, you know, put it upright, etc., and not to have him there with doing this is such a reminder of what you?ve lost.
S:?Very difficult.? And see Marc?s role, he loved ? he just jumped right in and started putting the ornaments on the tree, and so that first year after we got the lights up and David had the music going, it was like, we were kind of looking at each other.? What do we do now?? Because he?d already be busy almost halfway through with the ornaments, but it didn?t happen that way, so I think in years retrospect, because I didn?t realize that the first year about the roles that we all play and how difficult that is.
G:?Right, so don?t be surprised out there folks that it is going to come up, some of the things that you?ll miss.
H:?Right, and, mom, I?ve got to make one comment really quick.? I am surprised that Ryan, my five-year-old nephew said who?s Scott?? Because we have made such a point in our family even all these years later of keeping his memory alive and having our kids know who he is.
G:?Well, his brother is Scottie, so I think he thought maybe it was Scott.
H:?Okay, that makes sense.
G:?But it was sweet because we had an opportunity then to talk about Uncle Scott.? All these things are kind of sweet things at this point.? Well, you know, it?s time for us to go to break, and I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley, and when we get back from break, we?ve got some emails.? One email in particular.? And then got some questions that we?d like to talk about that listeners have sent in.? We?re talking about ?Dealing with the Holidays? with Susan K. Van Vleck.
One thing I wanted to say is we?ve heard from some of our friends that were having a bit of trouble with the archives maybe on our website, www.thegriefblog.com or www.compassionatefriends.org website.? You can also try www.health.voiceamerica.com to get the archives and we?re trying to get that fixed.? If you ever have any problems with archives or Ipod or anything, please email us because this Internet is kind of a brave new world that we?re on here, isn?t it, Heid?
H:?Absolutely, and since we?ve been on all of our shows, we already have heard all of them, so we often don?t listen to our own archives and we?re depending on you to tell us, you know what, I couldn?t hear a past show that I want to listen to.? So thank you for keeping us updated.
G:?Absolutely, and we?re going to be making CDs of some of our selected shows, too, that you?ll be able to.? We?ll put that on our website.? You?ll be able to get those.? All right.? So we?re back at talking about the holidays and we?ve gotten some questions from listeners and friends that we?ve gathered and also we?re going to talk about those a little bit because we like to answer your questions directly out there.? Susan, you got an email from somebody that you kind of emailed back and forth and talked about their situation, and I think you were saying that the husband and wife, their child?s been bereaved for, had died three years ago, and the wife is asking how can I help my husband through the holidays.? Is that right?
S:?Yes, Justin?s mom wrote that.
H:?Oh, Justin?s mom.? And you also said that she bought new ornaments.? Talk a little bit about that.? I thought that was interesting.
S:?Yes, she?s a very dear friend in Kansas, and I was telling her, I was surprised at how difficult it was for the fourteenth Christmas this year to decorate the tree, and she had made the suggestion to me that she had gone to a store and bought all new ornaments with like the red butterflies and that that represented her son, Justin, to her.
H:?Oh, that?s nice.
S:?And that she couldn?t.? She found the first two years, she couldn?t deal with the regular family ornaments.
G:?Mm hm.? Yeah, and it?s nice to do new and different things.? So she?s asking you, Justin?s mom is saying, how can I help my husband after three years??
G:?That?s very interesting because one of the things Heidi and I see is, and we?ve talked to other men about it, some men do not ? men tend maybe not to go to groups or to talk as much as women do, so it can be maybe very difficult for them.? A wife may feel that they need to move at the same pace that they are or deal with it.? They?re not dealing with it quite the way they think it should be done.? So we see that, don?t we, Heid?
H:?Absolutely.? And sometimes, like you said, mom, the men will grieve more privately and more by themselves.? I?m thinking rituals, and Susan, you?ve talked a lot about this before and I know you?re going to do that today, but different rituals around the house maybe.? Things could be like something that?s a living plant to symbolize the child they?ve lost or pictures of him.? We used to move pictures.? We used to take pictures and bring them into the living room around the tree of my brother.? Move them to different parts of the house so that his pictures were more of a presence during the holidays.
G:?Of course, you?ve got to make sure you don?t do too many.? Remember that woman who had pictures of her daughter everywhere in the world.
H:?Absolutely.? You need to do it in moderation because people need to be able to get away also from the grief and take breaks from it.
G:?Now I think for some men, and it sounds like maybe Justin?s dad, this might be a good idea, sometimes they need to compartmentalize their grief a little more so you might want to say to your husband if you?re a person that?s feeling like your husband needs to grieve but he hasn?t been able to find that setting.? Let?s put a candle out.? Let?s have a special time and light it.? How would you feel about that?? That way, somebody who is not an overt chatty griever, has that little, I don?t want to call it shrine, but that little signal, that little event that the child is remembered and that they?re there in part of it.
H:?Absolutely, and Susan, I don?t know if we?re going to get to this later in the show.? We might so you might want to stop me.? But your family did something that was so wonderful when you sent out the card, your Christmas card at Thanksgiving.
S:?Oh, yes, the first Christmas actually 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 Christmas morning, Frank, my husband, and David and myself, 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.? Wonderful, wonderful idea that we had gotten actually from one of the homework assignments of Good Grief.
G:?Oh, what a great idea.
H:?I love that, hearing new and different stories and funny memories, and, you know, all sorts of memories.
G:?Yeah, when we had Babe on the show a few weeks ago, he said at their candle lighting they were doing positive memories of their children and he said it was really an uplifting.
H:?And a celebration of their life.
G:?And a celebration of their life, yeah.? Well, we?ve got some questions here from listeners also.? One of them is:? ?Since my brother died, I really lost faith.? I just feel God is a myth.? This upsets my parents and I know they?re going to want me to go to mass and I don?t want to go.? What should I do??? Heidi, that?s a good sibling one for you.
H:?Okay, a few things.? One is that a lot of times, especially right after a loss, going to church really is hard.? It?s hard because the music and the memories of your sibling sometimes come flooding back, and it might take awhile for that not to happen and some of the hymns are sad.? So, and I think it?s a legitimate thing to be angry at God after a death.? It takes awhile to work through that.? I mean, you?re angry at everybody.? You’re angry at the world.? How could God allow this to happen?? I mean, that?s kind of how you?re thinking at that point.? That?s a legitimate feeling.? I don’t know what.? Do you guys, Susan and Gloria, have any other thoughts on that?
S:?Well, right after Marc died, that was what I was so angry about.? 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.
G:?I love to say God can take it.
H:?Right.? He?s got big shoulders.
S:?And who else but God knew.? He lost his son and he did that willingly.
S:?And I know we?re not to get in the religious aspect, but that was something he said to me, too.
G:?And that was comforting to you, yeah.? Absolutely.? Well, one of the things I?d like to say to this young man is tell your parents.? Tell your mother or your father that you would like not to go to mass and if they?re angry or hurt, if you?re really feeling strongly about it, you need to tell people.? Everybody has their right to grieve.? They have the right to do it the way they do it and their feelings that you need to do what they want you to do, sometimes you just have to stand up and say no.? On the other hand, it may not be worth it.? You have to pick your battles, don?t you think, Heidi?
H:?Definitely.? Absolutely.? If your parents are hard core.? I mean as kids, as siblings, we only have so much control over our lives because we?re not adults.? I am now, but I wasn?t before, and, you know, if your parents are saying, hey, you have to go to mass, that?s the bottom line.? That?s the rule in our family.? I pay the bills.? Then you have to go and you?ll just have to cope while you?re there and clean out your purse or do whatever.? Try to clean out.
G:?I was thinking of headphones, but I guess you can?t do that.
H:?Try to deal with it the best way that you can and take any positive thing you can from it and sometimes it will be hard, and realize it might be painful but when you?re living under your parents? roof, sometimes you do have to do things that you might not want to do.
S:?That may be true if she?s under age or he, but I think it would be very important just to open the line of communication and explain to her mom how she feels and let her mom have a dialogue back because she may be having some of those same feelings.
H:?Absolutely, Susan, that is such a good point.
G:?That they can dialogue.? Well, before we go to break, I think we have time for one more and let me pick one.? ?Our daughter was killed by a drunk driver on New Year?s Eve.? We have two kids in college and I know they?re going to want to go to parties.? I made them stay home last year but they have told me they are not going to stay home this year.? So second year.? Any suggestions would be appreciated.?
H:?Oh, my gosh.? That is such.? That is the biggest thing when I talk to bereaved siblings that they say they want me to tell their parents we need to be normal kids.? We need to live our lives.? We know our sibling has died but we have to be normal kids again.? And I know it?s hard for the parents because they?re worried.
G:?And New Year?s Eve is a scary time.? There are a lot of people on the road that are drinking and all that kind of thing but if you can find out where your kids are going.? Get as much information.? Tell them that you need the time that they?re going to be home so you know.? I mean maybe it?s going to be 2 o?clock in the morning or whatever but at least you?ll know then, and just try to get as much information, and tell em you?re doing it because of you, because you need it, because it?s bothersome to you, and then you?re going to have to try to find your own hand holding.? Maybe your spouse or whoever.? Maybe you?re going to have to distract yourself with a movie or go to a party or I don?t know.? Some way to distract yourself.? Once you get all the information you can, then you?ve got to distract yourself because these kids are in college.? You can?t ask them to end their lives because, or you know, to make those kinds of changes.
S:?No, but maybe in the communication again, if they could call them.
H:?I was thinking that too.? Cell phones are a wonderful thing.
G:?Yeah, a wonderful thing and a pain in the neck.
H:?Or text messaging.
S:?Just to kind of let them know, and that?s good that the child understands.? We didn?t think our child would die and now we?re afraid that it?s going to happen again.? Real horrible fear.? And so I think if they would just call if they?re going to be late or have a verbal agreement that if they can?t after drinking, they can?t drive, that they would call the parents and they would come and not be angry with them but they would be glad to do that.
G:?Right.? So communication.? Communication.? Well, we?re coming up on break and I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley, and please stay tuned to hear more about ?Dealing with the Holidays.?? These shows are archived on our website, www.thegriefblog.com, as well as www.compassionatefriends.org website.? Please stay tuned to hear more.
Susan, when we were at break, I was talking a little bit about we were supposed to go to Hawaii.? It?s a whole family event and my husband?s quite ill and may not be able to go.? We may not be able to join the other rest of the family and I was saying that during the holidays there?s so much anticipation and we have our own agenda and I said that even doing the show this morning helped me realize that I need to set my own agenda aside and you were giving us a John Lennon quote.? Would you give it to the audience?
S:?He wrote, ?Life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans.?
H:?That is so true.
G:?That?s a great quote.? Well, listen, let?s do one more email and then I want to talk to you about some thoughts and ideas you have about the holidays.? The next email is ?Our family goes to my sister-in-law?s house for Christmas dinner.? Our baby died in June and I just don?t know if I want to go to a big party.? My sister-in-law says that I need to get over it.? What can I say to her?? Is she right?? Do you think it would be good for me?? My husband would like to go to the party but is supportive of me.?? So, a lot of questions.? Her sister-in-law says she needs to get over it.
H:?Needs to get over it.? I hate that word.? You know I hate that phrase.? Um, we don?t get over the death of someone that we?ve loved and we think is going to be in our lives forever, but we learn to live with it and we learn to move forward but you can?t get over something like that.
G:?Well, and she says, what do you think, Susan?? She says, ?Is she right?? Do I need to get over it??? The baby died in June.
S:?No.? No I don?t.? And I?m sure she did not mean to be hurtful when she said that to her sister-in-law but if she had been through there, had lost a child, then I would ask how did you do that and how can I move on? that that might be a response.
G:?Well, you know, I think the sister-in-law has, again, her own agenda and her needs, and you know, sometimes people get aggravated.? I remember my sister-in-law was angry because we didn?t go to my niece?s wedding in June, and Scott had died in April, and we just couldn?t.? We just couldn?t do it, you know.? And sometimes people are going to be cranky, but that?s too bad.
S:?Their agenda is that they are uncomfortable with our pain.?
G:?And they want us to be like we were.
H:?Yes, exactly.? They want it to be like it used to be.? And we can still have positive times ahead but, you know, they?re going to be different.? We have to create like our new normal now.
S:?It takes a long time for the trial-and-error period.? 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.
G:?And during the holidays, we may just have to say no.?
S:?And that is okay.
G:?Without even an explanation.? I can?t do it.? I?m sorry.
S:?No, I?m sorry.? It?s like we have to give ourselves permission to do what we can do.
G:?And the other thing is, if her husband wants to go to the party, I think he could do that.? Don?t you, too?
S:?Yeah, I think so.
G:?You know, people do not grieve and husbands and wives do not move in tandem through grief or through the holidays.? People will be up.? Other people will be down.
H:?And sometimes it?s a gift to yourself that you can say, you know what, if you want to stay home, that?s fine.? I?ll go without you.? Sometimes they?re very appreciative and they?re like, really?? I can stay home.? Thank you.
G:?Right.? But one of the things, Heidi, take the sibling role about the holidays will you?
H:?I think my biggest thought about that is that, you know, children and kids and young adults and even older adults want the holidays to be a positive time and want positive things to happen.? And so sometimes parents, I know it?s really hard, but need to kind of put on a game face and have as much as they can Christmas Day a positive day, or Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving or the holidays, because kids really want that, and they really look forward to these holidays and so for them, sometimes we need to do it for our surviving children.?
G:?And it can be what about me.? But you know I?m thinking in this situation, they could have an uncle or an aunt take the children up to go to the party, too.
H:?That?s a great idea.? I like that idea and bring the kids, yeah, because kids love going to parties.
G:?So, and, you know, get other people involved in helping you this year.
H:?And kids grieve differently as we?ve said on past shows.? Kids grieve in shorter segments.? They can be grieving one minute and the next minute, they can be really enjoying a party and that?s a good thing.? That?s the way that kids cope.? They?re different than adults.
G:?Right.? So, Susan, I wanted to look at some of the ideas you had about the holidays.? Talk about anticipation a little bit.
S:?Well, I think as soon as the calendar starts flipping over and we?re hearing the Christmas music and it?s like society?s happy time, family time.? We have such high expectations and I was trying to remember even before Marc?s death that I ever achieved that goal or that picturesque thing that everybody seems to fantasize about.
G:?Yeah, all the women?s magazines and stuff.? You want to make all that stuff.? The cooking books.
S:?That?s really not fair to us but anyway, that?s a whole different thing.? But I think the anticipation of the Christmas Day and I don?t
G:?Always say the other holidays.? If it?s Hanukah or whatever people celebrate
S:?and the date of their anniversary death or their birth date, and I don?t want to make the listeners angry, because I was mad when people used to tell me that before I experienced it for the first couple of times, but 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.? I?m a big planner, I guess.
G:?And it helps.? It certainly does.? And also remember it?s only one day.? I said something on one of the shows about if you want to pull the covers over your head do, and then Heidi took the sibling point of view, which I thought was important.? Do you want to do that again, Heidi?
H:?I just said, wait a minute.? If you want to pull the covers over your head and there?s children living at home, you don?t have that option.? You really need to get up and be down with the kids for them.? For your living children.
G:?And again, you can have other people come in and help you and you can have your supermarket come in and help you with your Christmas dinner too.
H:?That?s a good idea.? Fresh Direct is wonderful.? They?ll deliver a whole dinner to you and you don?t have to do anything but put it in the microwave.? So, yeah.
G:?So some of that planning ahead.? I thought some of the things you said about planning ahead, too, Susan, were that you could talk to the family members about what they?d like.
S:?Yes, and again, as you see, I?m a big proponent of communication.? Just sit down as a family and decide what traditions are most important that they want to do this year and maybe they can?t ? 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.
G:?And the first year, you know, some of what we?re talking about comes along, too.? The first year, you may just be doing rote and can?t even think of this particularly if it?s been recently since your child died.? I mean it just may be getting through it and you just have to realize it?s one day and just try to get through it.
H:?And sometimes we have to compromise which also goes along with the communication.? Someone might want something and someone else might want something else and we need to have a middle, come into the middle and compromise.
G:?Another thing you say, Susan, which is so important, remember that thoughts and feelings are normal and should be respected.
S:?Yes, by everyone because everyone, as you said earlier, 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.
H:?And we?re human so even though we do try to put on the positive face, like I was saying before, it?s normal that something might trigger our emotions and we might all of a sudden break down in the middle of Christmas, and that?s okay.? That we?re human.? We can?t control that sometimes.
S:?And I think that?s wonderful.? I?m glad you said that, Heidi, because 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.
H:?Right and you can say to the family right out, I?m so happy to be here with you all today, I just miss Scott.?
G:?And if you really don?t want to break down, and some guys don?t want to do it, going into the bathroom is a great place.? Turn the water on and go for it.
S:?That?s right.? And also leading up to the holiday for me, journaling and allowing.? 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.? I have done that.
G:?Let?s talk a little bit about taking care of yourself.? What are the things that you recommend?
S:?Well, 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.
G:?And don?t drink alcohol because alcohol is also dehydrating and it also makes us think we?ve had enough fluid.
S:?Yes.? Take a walk around the block to get some fresh air is good.? Doing a little exercise.? And I?ve already mentioned about the quiet time in a journal, for writing in a journal.? Listen to some nice music, not necessarily Christmas music, but 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.
G:?Oh, that?s sweet.? Well, it?s time for us to come on break.?
We know this is a tough time of year for you folks out there, and what great ideas that Susan brings us here today talking about things like anticipation, planning ahead, and very good ideas.? I wanted to deal with one last email.? This is our last segment.? And it?s an email that says, ?I am trying to think of special things we can do this year to remember my brother who died in Iraq.? Do you have any ideas??? Well, Susan, do you have some ideas for?
S:?I have a couple.? You can light one of those 24-hour candles that you can buy in a grocery store.? They?re like 99? and burn them all day.? We do that on special days here because Christmas cards might be too late.? With the memories you can share stories going around the holiday meal table, and then I know of a mother that buys a poinsettia for her home as a living memorial to her son during the holiday season.
G:?Hmm.? Very nice.? Heid, how about you?
H:?I was just.? It?s something that Susan already had said in an email note she wrote to me and I love how on Christmas cards, I know it?s late during the season, but I love how you put Marc?s name and underneath in parentheses you put ?in spirit? and them stamped like a blue angel stamp.
H:?I love that idea.
G:?That?s very nice and, you know, you could also send out just holiday cards after the holidays, too, with that kind of thing on it.? Great idea.? Well, I think all of us, just for this lady who wrote the email about her brother died in Iraq, I want you to know, I think that the whole nation is feeling great sorrow at this time for our wonderful soldiers that are serving us in Iraq.
H:?Absolutely, our thoughts are with you.
G:?Absolutely.? So Susan, before we close the show, I wanted to talk a little bit more about the idea of being flexible.? Could you talk about that?
S:?Yes.? I think that 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.
G:?And some people would not even want to do that at all.?
S:?Yes, that?s right.
H:?And some people may just want to listen and not have to say anything.
G:?Right.? Yeah, that?s a good point being able to pass.? When you go to a Compassionate Friends meeting, it?s a wonderful thing not to have to say anything when people are going around so some people may want to talk about it and some not.? Well, I wanted to talk a little bit about drinking, too.? Alcohol is a very difficult thing during the holidays and one of the things I want to suggest if you have family members who are involved with a loss or if you?re involved with a loss.? Make sure.? I suggest to people that they serve hors d?oeuvres.? Try to do low alcohol drinks or no alcohol drinks there, you know, mixed fruit drinks or whatever.? Don?t have alcohol around for people are going to have problems with it.? Make sure you have some high carb foods there and make sure you have food with the drinks.? Serve dinner early.? End your party early.? Would be some of my recommendations during the holidays.? And one of the things that the grief literature does recommend for you people who are in the first year is that you do stay pretty close to the rituals you used to have as far as staying home or whatever for the first year.? It?s always recommended that you don?t do too many changes so you might want to think about doing a few of the things that you did before and not getting out.? I found the first year we kind of slogged through and kind of had pretty much the same ritual.? Then the second year we went off and did something else which was very helpful.? I think we went to Hawaii that year and took my mother who is now deceased.
H:?Also activities.? If you?re feeling really depressed and down, go play ping-pong with your kids.? Go play pool with your kids.? It moves the energy and you?re doing something enjoyable.
G:?Mm hm.? And at least take a walk around the block or whatever.? That can make a big difference if you?re feeling sluggish.? Well, Susan, do you have any more thoughts about the holidays for our folks?? Have we covered what we thought about?
S:?Um, yes, unless just to 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.
G:?Mm hm.? And sometimes we?re shocked and embarrassed or whatever that something?s amusing.
S:?Yeah, but that?s okay.? I mean I felt guilty, I remember, the first time I laughed.? It was like how could I laugh?? But it?s good for your body to laugh and cry.? Absolutely.? 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 see I?m a big journalist but talking to someone.? They said you need to tell your story 25 times or you either have to have 25 friends or one really good friend, but to go out and, we can?t weed a garden right now, but some people, they like to yank those weeds up out of the ground.? Paint.? Write poetry.? There?s just a way that you need to express the pain and the loss.
G:?Absolutely.? Well, Heid, have you got any more thoughts for our audience?
H:?I was just thinking of what Susan said, to reiterate on it, that we need to give ourselves permission to laugh.? Laughter is an emotion.? It?s okay to laugh and if you?re laughing, you can say to yourself, I?m laughing in memory of Scott, of my brother.? I?m doing this for him.? It?s all right to laugh.? It doesn?t mean that we miss them any less or we love them any less.
G:?Absolutely.? So think about anticipation, planning ahead, communication, flexibility, and taking care of yourself during the holidays, and thank you so much for being on our show, Susan.
H:?Thank you, Susan.
G:?It?s been wonderful having you on.? It?s time to close the show now and I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley, and these shows are archived on our website, www.thegriefblog.com, as well as www.compassionatefriends.org website.? Please listen to our show on Thursdays at 12:00 Eastern and 9:00 Pacific Standard Time on Thursday morning, and our guest next week will be Bill Guggenheim, and the show will be ?Hello From Heaven: After Death Communication.?? He?s written a best-seller book on ?Hello From Heaven.?? And I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley.? Thanks for listening.? And
H:?Dr. Heidi Horsley.? Susan, Marc is gone but never forgotten.? His memory lives on during the holidays and in all the work that you do.? Thank you for being on our show.
HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART