Summer is in full swing, and all around you see families taking vacations and spending time together. However, for those who are suffering through the grief of a lost family member, the summer may not be as joyous. Thoughts of trips enjoyed in the past, and thoughts of trips that will never be taken tend to overshadow the possibly enjoyable time that we all call summer.
No matter how far along you are in your grief journey, it is likely that the thought of taking a trip to a place you and your deceased loved one enjoyed visiting fills you with a wealth of emotion. There is surely sadness and longing for days gone by as you begin to ponder a trip without the physical presence of your loved one. One thing you must remember, and gain strength from, is that although your deceased loved one may not be with you physically, they still accompany you in your heart and mind. When you visit a place that your loved one enjoyed with you in the past, the memories of those trips can fill your heart with a joy that is unique and surprisingly memorable. Additionally, visiting a place that you and your loved one never got a chance to visit together can be just as memorable if the memory of your loved one is kept alive and active during that journey.
In our grief support programs, we call these things that are hard to do again, or hard to do for the first time in the absence of your loved one, hurdles. Hurdles are, by and large, the only thing you will ever hear us talk about “getting over” in your grief journey. Hurdles present challenges that cause us as grievers to pause and resist, because we are focused on the absence of our deceased loved one. We ask ourselves questions like, “how can I go without them” or, we tell ourselves lies like, “I can never enjoy this in their absence.” The truth of the matter is that any hurdle, anything you may have done in the past, or want to do in the future, is perfectly capable of bringing you joy in spite of your grief. The questions we ask ourselves should be, “would they want me to go in their memory” or tell ourselves truths like, “they are with me wherever I go,” in order to surmount that hurdle and take that next large step towards living life in our “new normal.” Yes, there will be times during the conquering of these hurdles, that the feelings of grief will overwhelm you and try to bring you to your knees. This is normal. Anytime you face something new in life after the death of a loved one has a demonstrable aspect of pain. However, part of your journey through grief is facing that pain head on, and deciding to not let it beat you.
To try and make the process of conquering these hurdles somewhat easier, here are five recommendations:
1. Choose a place that was meaningful for your loved one while they were alive. When you do this you are bringing the strong presence of their joy during past trips with you. You can draw strength from the positive memories of previously enjoyable trips, and this can help you through the challenges you may face.
2. Take support along with you. It is always harder to face things like this alone. Therefore, bring along someone close to help you through those challenging times. By bringing someone you trust, someone who can withstand the onslaught of emotions you may throw at them and remain fully present with you, you allow yourself an outlet for healing conversation and reflection. That being said, there may be those who may feel stronger tackling a hurdle by themselves. If that is what you decide to do, maintain connection with your support system by phone or text as a way of still having that necessary outlet of expression.
3. Include the loved one in the trip. Actively, take their memory with you. Do not shy away from the thoughts of what they may have enjoyed in the past, and what they would have enjoyed during this trip. Be willing to have those open times of remembrance when you tell stories, laugh and cry.
4. Don’t set the bar too high. This first trip in the physical absence of your loved one will be tough. There will be many tears and there will be many emotions. Embrace them. Fight through them. Talk about them. Survive them. These trips will become easier as time passes and you mature in your grief journey, but they will never be “the same.” Don’t expect that first trip to be the perfect culmination of a grief well fought.
5. Don’t be afraid to go home early. With the challenges this first trip, or hurdle, will throw at you, it is always necessary to keep the door open for escape. If the emotions and memories get the best of you, it is okay to “throw in the towel” and return home. Although sticking it out through the challenges may be therapeutic with the appropriate support system around you, if you become overwhelmed to the point of sickness or depression, don’t be afraid to say, “I have had enough.” However, if you do this, resolve to try again sooner than later.
Hurdles can seem like you are attempting to summit mount Everest. But, with the proper frame of mind and support system around you, conquering them is not impossible.
If you find that you are in need of help facing, and/or journeying through your grief, our programs are free and open to the public. For more information, please call 770-786-7062 and ask for someone from our Grief and Bereavement group.