Relationships can be tough this time of year. I call it the Bermuda Triangle of holidays. For many, this will be the first set of holidays without a loved one. Broken relationships can take many forms. Most in Collin County have experienced divorce in their family. Death takes away loved ones far too soon. This will be the first Christmas without my little brother. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah and New Year’s Day take on radically different meanings when it is the first time through without a spouse.
In my practice I often hear the same words of loss, anger and depression as those used when we experience a loss through death as well as divorce. I used to think grief occurred like stair steps. You moved through one stage and “stepped up” to the next one. My experience is different than this however. What I have observed with mine and other’s grief is that it is more circular (think Slinky). One day we have a level of acceptance about the loss, and the next we try to deny it. Over time however, we seem to move through all the stages while returning to each periodically. With time, the rawness begins to dissipate. Sometimes slowly, and I am not sure that it ever completely goes away. Sometimes we are given the opportunity to deal with these feelings, these “stages,” at different levels. Like the layers of the onion, we can usually go deeper.
When I facilitate divorce recovery groups (or other loss-related groups) we try to deal with the feelings in a productive manner. My experience is that the groups generally go either into the solution -or- into the problem (sometimes in spite of where I try to take them). My theory is that we must deal with the feelings in a productive way or they are going to come out sideways down the road. A constant look backwards rarely allows us to move into today, let alone tomorrow. It is clear to me that grief involves the sadness of dealing with lost hope for the present and the future. This can be true hope-lessness. With productive, solution-oriented work (and time) the hope for the future and the hope for the present can be more hope-ful, but it must be a new and different hope. Grief is about reconciling these two perspectives between lost and new hopes.
Traditions often tie us to these hopes of the past. This is why it is so difficult to experience great times of tradition like Thanksgiving or Christmas. The holiday is just not the same if we all aren’t there. But a new hope-fulness would encourage us to develop a new tradition that helps us move on while still enjoying an existing tradition in a new way. 2
At one time I used to facilitate groups that would allow the venting for people to focus on feelings of hope-lessness. At our group we have changed our view on this. Now, we offer to walk forward with people. Perhaps we are just offering to walk a different part of the journey with people, but my observation is- people continue to grow and move forward with forward looking behavior. It sounds simplistic but I have observed that the people who are happy in life are the ones who focus on what they have and the unhappy folks are the ones who constantly focus on what they don’t have. To that end a productive move through grief and loss may include some of the latter but a solution-oriented approach will continue to encourage us towards a focus on what we do (and will) have.
Rev. Daniel Gowan, LPC-S, CSAT and Dr. Dina Hijazi, PhD, CSAT are Co-Founders of D2Counseling and lead a quality team of mature, experienced therapists that specialize in children and family as well as individuals, couples and groups. They take an active and engaged approach and work with marriage and family counseling to depression, anxiety and dependency issues with offices in Plano and Far North Dallas. www.D2Counseling.com 972-975-9100