The upcoming ski vacation was going to be the first time the family would be taking their annual ski vacation without Robert. Sarah had first met Robert's family on one of these trips when they were dating.
Now, 20 years later, with their three kids and the countless cousins, the annual Christmas ski vacation with Robert’s extended family had become their family tradition.
Yet, this year she wondered, how was she going to cope without Robert, the energetic, fun-loving dad and uncle, who always seemed to have a way of smoothing things out when Sarah began to tire of Robert's side of the family during the trip?
Were her kids ready to see the extended family for the first time since the funeral? Was she prepared to re-engage with Robert's family, alone?
Even though she loved them, Robert was her buffer, the one who had always created an accepting environment. But now he was gone.
"Am I going to feel uncomfortable? I will be the only adult there without a spouse," she lamented to her friend. "I know they are all going to be feeling sad for me and to be honest, I don't know how I am going to react. I know in many ways, I am the elephant in the room. Everyone will be tiptoeing around me!" She cried.
Tradition & Loss
How can you best share with family members and approach family traditions after the death of a loved one?
The feelings can be a challenge to navigate but it’s important to know that many bereaved individuals experience these same concerns.
Those who have recently lost a loved one often feel like a spotlight is shining on them, and that people are tiptoeing around them for fear of upsetting them. Those who have lost, can also experience feelings of guilt as they fear they are making everyone feel uncomfortable around them.
Setting The Tone
Sarah decided to manage the situation by sharing her thoughts and feelings with her family ahead of the trip.
-She wrote a letter addressing the elephant in the room.
Sarah sent an email to Robert's family, sharing her worries about the upcoming trip. She acknowledged that this was going to be a tough experience for everyone, and she needed their understanding while she figured out the best way to be involved on the trip.
-She asked for permission to disappear. She told the family that there might be times on the trip that she may need to have some quiet, alone time. She asked for space and reminded them not to construe her behavior as rudeness or anger as she withdrew.
-She encouraged family to share memories and use Robert's name during the trip.
After a recent loss, family and friends tend to avoid using the name of the departed because they are afraid it will be a trigger for the bereaved.
In reality, bereaved individuals miss hearing the name of their loved one. Sarah reminded her family to use Robert’s name and share stories about him. There were many wacky tales to be told that the kids would love to hear about their father and uncle. Perhaps this sharing would help normalize the grieving process a bit too.
-She suggested starting a new tradition during their ski trip holiday.
In years past, each family member was required to come up with a silly skit or song to perform before holiday gifts were opened. This tradition had grown larger than life – often resulting in belly laughs, mostly due to some of the inappropriate antics Robert would dream up.
This family "talent show" had become legendary. Yet, now without Robert, how would everyone feel about the show?
Sarah suggested they try the talent show this year (since she already had a fun idea) but offered another option as well. "What if we started a new tradition," she wrote, "a game night that we can make competitive?"
A Relieved Family
So, how did the family receive her letter? Sarah shared that the family had already been conversing on a separate thread with each other, sharing their private concerns. "It is like you read our minds," they told her. They were so relieved.
Sarah also shared that the holiday ski vacation was ultimately a fantastic experience. She said that although she cried every day, she made it through. And the most special part was being able to truly feel the support of her whole family.
Support Each Other
The holidays can often be extremely sad for those who are grieving. People can feel lonely and isolated without their loved ones to share in such a joyous time of year.
However, by planning ahead of time, and expressing your needs, you can work to create a peaceful outcome.