Vacations After Loss

Vacations bring to mind time spent together as a family. After losing a child or children, vacations -- especially the first ones after loss -- remind us of their absence.

Some bereaved parents place a higher expectation on the vacation than can be fulfilled. Maybe Mom may assume that getting away from home and the stress of’ work will enable dad and other family members to talk about their loss, reliving memories together and resolving issues of their grief. Dad might be thinking “If we can just get away from all these memories and stress, we can relax and forget our pain.” Someone else in the family might think the vacation will give some relief from the grief work. Because each person has definite goals with high expectations, they may discover their spouse and/or children’s goals to be painfully opposite their own. It’s not uncommon to discover one spouse may not be ready to talk yet.

If vacations usually include trips to relatives or family camps, seeing everyone after your loss can be bittersweet. Memories as well as remembrances of what you’d planned for your child to do with others flood your mind. Some people will want to talk about your child. If your trip occurs shortly after the funeral, you may find that talking about your child is like dragging the funeral out for days. When several months have elapsed, others often feel uncomfortable and will not mention your child’s name until you do. If you want to talk about your child, don’t wait for others to bring up his/her name they’re uncertain if you’re comfortable talking about them so are waiting for you to make the first move.

Many find the enthusiasm to plan vacations and the concentration to make detailed arrangements are gone the first year, especially.

Others feel too stressed out to go anywhere or fear coming home would be too painful. In that case, day outings might be more suited to your energy and enthusiasm levels. Try to choose a variety of things so that each member of the family can do something they enjoy

Some bereaved parents experience fear of getting too far from home or fear of being too far away from the mementos that remind them of their precious child. Various fears, some irrational may make thoughts of a vacation too painful to consider. In such a case, it would be good to try to define these fears. Just realizing what the fear pertains to helps you deal with it. If fear seems to be a problem with any member of the family, it would be good to make a list of what things they are fearful of happening, then calmly discuss these fears with someone. If it’s too stressful to discuss them within the immediate family, as a trusted friend or pastor to discuss them with you. Just getting them out in the open and identified will help immeasurably.

Many recently bereaved people find that too much free time allows more time for painful remembrances than they welcome, so it’s important to be flexible and willing to change plans midway through the vacation if it’s agreeable with the majority of the family.

Discuss the pros and cons of visiting a familiar place or new experience to decide what each family member feels most comfortable with.

Remember grief depletes your energy levels so you’ll tire more quickly. Take this into consideration when planning reasonable distances to be driven daily. Bereaved people need exercise but if you’re planning to hike or do other strenuous exercise, don’t forget your energy levels are not the same as they were before your child’s death. Exhaustion and disappointment with your capabilities (thus frustration) will come much sooner than it previously did.

Whether you leave town or stay home, remember working through grief is the hardest work you’ll ever do. Be kind to yourself as it’s physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Allow time to re-energize your own depleted reserves.

It would be good to sit down as individuals or as a family to jot down your expectations or goals for your vacation, your fears and other factors so that as parents you can have an idea of what others are expecting before you take off. If dad and the teenagers know Morn is expecting everyone to want to spend some time reminiscing and working through grief it will be less frustrating for everyone if they know the time will not ALL be devoted to one person s expectations. Knowing that some time may be set aside for grief work, but also some for total relaxation for dad and mom, and some for other individual family members’ enjoyment will make it less stressful for everyone.

As in other family matters, communication is Very Important. No one else can read your mind and be able to fulfill your unexpressed expectations. For a vacation to be refreshing for everyone, good communication will be one of the most important factors.

You may have been planning a very special vacation and are wondering if you should take it so soon after your loss. You might want to consider waiting another year so you can enjoy it more than with the excess “grief baggage” you’ll be carrying along this year. Or you may feel that since you have been anticipating it for so long, to put it off would just be another loss added to your child’s death. Only you can decide. If you can’t decide peaceably, that’s an indication you won’t enjoy it as much now as you most likely would a year from now.

As with everything else after loss, the first vacation will be the most challenging. It’s all new with that huge absence ever present. It would be nice if a vacation were an opportunity for you to escape your pain or leave it behind at home, but the fact is, everywhere that love goes, grief goes too! We grieve because we love. As time passes, vacations won’t be edged with as much pain. Someday you’ll find one enjoyable.

-- by Carol Ruth Blackman


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