When we think of summer we almost automatically think of vacations. But for families who have lost a child or sibling there can be dread and unfulfilled expectations associated with summer vacations. Sometimes vacations bring to mind time spent together as a family. After losing a child or children, vacations — especially the first ones after loss — may only remind us of their absence.
Some bereaved parents place a higher expectation on the vacation than can be fulfilled. You may assume that getting away from home and the stress of work might help family members talk about their loss by reliving memories together. But because we all grieve differently, other family members may be thinking that it would be good to get away from all these memories and stress, relax and forget the pain of grieving. Someone else in the family might think the vacation will give some relief from the grief work. Because everyone has their own expectations for the vacation, and they could be very different, it is important to talk about what you are expecting.
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 or sibling, while others may be cautious to say their name. 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.
It may be difficult to find the enthusiasm and energy needed to plan a vacation. For others, the fear of coming home may cause stress. Taking a block of time, perhaps a week or two, might be helpful but for some people, short day trips might be more suited to the different grieving styles of family members.
Some bereaved parents experience fear of going 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 in a support group, with a therapist or a good friend.
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.
Remember grief depletes your energy levels so you may 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 yourself the time to re-energize your own depleted reserves.