A Holiday Season After the Loss of a Loved One The death of a loved one can be a powerful impetus to change the dynamics of your marriage, but also the driving force for creating family connection and new holiday traditions. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
Maintain a place at the table for your family member who has passed.
“ Ask yourself if your partner was suddenly taken from you, would you have any regrets? If you think you might, itís time to make some changes.”
Laurenís father, Leo, passed away earlier this year, and she understandably has mixed feelings about the upcoming holiday season. Her husband, Gary, was also very close to Laurenís father and is deeply affected by the loss. Even though Lauren and Gary are looking forward to the festivities and celebrating the holidays with their family, itís nevertheless the first holiday without her father.
Lauren and Gary are not the only ones grieving their loss; their immediate and extended families are affected, as well. Now, more than ever, they realize the importance of supporting each other through a potentially difficult time. Lauren and Gary have rekindled their bond and are extremely appreciative that they are both alive, well, and have each other.
Because the passing of a loved one touches the entire family and the family holiday traditions, itís important for everyone to discuss the loss and any emptiness they might be feeling. By doing so, it helps to integrate the loss with their lives and allows the family to ease their pain by coming together, bringing it out in the open, and being supportive to one another. This is very healing for all concerned and affords the family the opportunity to find ways to honor Leoís life, and to also create new traditions that can still be enjoyed even without his presence.
Here are a few ways that you and your spouse can honor your loved one during the holidays and simultaneously create new traditions. Below are some ideas that you can incorporate into your holiday celebrations:
1. Set a place setting at the table, including his picture(s) and a lighted candle. For some families, having an empty chair with a place setting might invoke sadness and just remind them of their loss. Thatís why itís important to come together in advance and talk about what works and what doesnít. An alternative could be to create a centerpiece that includes candles, pictures, and beautiful flowers. Whatever the gesture, it acknowledges the loved one and keeps their memory alive during the celebration.
2. Share memories. While the family is having their dessert and coffee, everyone at the table could take the opportunity to share a favorite memory or a funny story. This allows everyone to have a few laughs and maybe some tears but, more importantly, it creates a heartfelt connection with the family and with the one who has passed on.
3. Fashion a space to remember. Create a special table in honor of the deceased, which could be even more special if each family member brings their own contribution(s) to the table. Items to include could be pictures, mementos, a special piece of jewelry, a poem, special note, or anything that would remind the family.
As Lauren and Gary experienced, life is very precious and we often only realize just how precious it is when someone weíve loved is gone. Ask yourself if your partner was suddenly taken from you, would you have any regrets? If you think you might, itís time to make some changes. For instance, if you havenít expressed appreciation for your spouse or told her "I love you" in quite a while, start saying it! If the lines of communication are breaking down in your marriage, get to work at learning how to express your feelings and learn how to listen. Always remember that you have the power to change behaviors in your marriage that arenít working.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com and follow her on Google+.