HOME   CONTACT US  Like Us On Facebook Watch us on YouTube Follow Us On Twitter  
Smart Stepfamilies

NEW!
Order
From Amazon, B&N, & FamilyLife.

 ABOUT US   SMART HELP   EVENTS   SMART STORE   MEDIA   DONATE 

Resurrected Pain

 

            I am dreading the holidays. My 12 year-old son, Connor, died in February 2009 and every year I become anxious about facing the holiday season without him. How can my family go through the motions of our annual traditions without Connor? How do we find the “joy of the season” with so much sorrow in our hearts?

            Most likely you, too, have been through a significant loss in your life. I know your children or stepchildren have. And whether we like it or not, the magic of the holidays also resurrects our pain. Loss is central to the stepfamily experience. I suggest you get prepared to face it, especially during this time of year.

 

The Enduring Nature of Loss

            Whether your loss came this past year or 10 years ago, you won’t “get over it.” You will only get through it. Loss endures. And special family occasions, like the holidays, remind us once again of what is no more.

            A deceased parent will be missed this time of year with extra tears. A family fractured by divorce will feel again the pain of being emotionally splintered into two houses. Children will reminisce about what was and what could have been, while reprocessing how they feel about the new stepfamily members in their lives. Grandparents will wish the family could once again, all be together. And when the awkwardness of holiday activities confronts, stepparents may again evaluate the realities of life and expectations lost.

            Because loss is enduring these types of responses cannot be helped. And they should not be avoided. The fragile nature of stepfamily living sometimes leads people to deny resurrected pain or try to “fix” others who experience it. Grandparents, for example, might assume that a child who cries once again over the loss of the original family just needs a well designed word that will make everything better. Even worse, insecure parents may emotionally punish a child for not being loyal to the new family. For example, when learning that his adult children questioned whether they would attend a pre-Christmas party that included their stepmother’s adult children and grandchildren, one father threatened not to attend his grandchild’s Christmas play. He thought by threatening to emotionally withdraw himself he could encourage his adult children to accept his new wife. How misguided!

 

Responding to Loss

            Loss does not need to be fixed. It needs to be expressed—and received with compassion. Don’t be afraid of your own feelings of loss and don’t fear listening to those of others. The process of “bearing with one another” is how we survive grief (Galatians 6:2).

            Give permission to grief and use the holidays as a spring board to conversation about loss. A stepparent might say to a child, for example, “I noticed that you’re not getting to spend as much time this year with your dad and his parents. I bet that makes you sad. [Pause and wait for a response.]” Or, while engaged in a holiday tradition that started before the stepfamily began, one might say, “I know this reminds you of [missing family member]. Tell me a story about when you used to do this activity together.” These small conversations give permission to grief and the emotional connections therein. Plus, when communicated by a stepparent, they engender respect, care for the person, and may actually facilitate the new stepfamily relationships.

            Model sadness. Adults should talk openly about their sadness and express tears. This communicates that it is okay for others to do the same, but more importantly, it models for younger children appropriate ways of grieving.

            Coach children in healthy grieving. Labeling the emotions of children, for example, helps them learn to identify the emotion in themselves. “I’ve noticed that since coming home from your mom’s house you are pretty irritable. I’m wondering if you are missing her a lot lately?” A child who has been acting angry in this situation can now deal with their sadness, a necessary action if they are ever to stop being inappropriately angry and irritable.

            Act in kindness. Consider what might minister to someone’s grief and act accordingly. A stepfamily member might encourage, “I know you’re sister’s family is only here for a short time. Why don’t you spend extra time with them and I’ll manage the children for a while.”

            Don’t take it personally. Stepparents, especially, need to disconnect from the pain of their stepchildren during the holidays. A child’s sadness for what has been lost is not necessarily a rejection of you. Don’t make it about you; keep it about them.

            Manage your guilt. Biological parents can become frozen by their children’s sadness. Yes, their pain may be a result of your past choices, but don’t allow that guilt to paralyze you from setting reasonable limits and enforcing rules. Permissiveness does not heal pain.

 

The Great Teacher

            Loss is the great teacher. It has the power, for example, to deepen our walk with the Lord, reprioritize our life, and remind us what matters most. The loss of my son has certainly had that impact on me. This holiday, don’t squash your grief (or anyone else’s). God will teach you much if you will pay attention to your loss and listen.

 

 


Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies. Learn more about Connor's Song, the ministry started in Connor's memory, here.

 

 
Comments ( 2 )
 
Add your Comment
 
#2: by Donna on 11.02.2011 @ 08:55pm CDT

Dear Ron,

I feel for you. I can hear your deep pain about missing your son. Yet, you continue to try to reach out to all of us blended families. I can't express how much I appreciate your ministry. There is not much out their as far as christian advice for blended families. This is a blessing and I know you and your family sacrifice to continue it. I wish I could take away your families pain and give you back your son. I can only say simple words "Thank-you" for remaining faithful to the Lord as you grieve. I believe you will be richly blessed one day in heaven and you and your son will sing together once more in His Glory! God Bless.

Sincerely,

Donna
#1: by barbara mancino on 11.01.2011 @ 05:51pm CDT

I'm so sorry for the loss of Connor; I am a fan of his singing (online) and I am seeing so much more wisdom and deeper answers in your posts and blogs. He is still teaching you a lot I see. Amazing what we learn from loss. Hugs, love, and prayers to you and Nan, and the family.
Thanks again for all you do for us stepfamilies.

Add your Comment*
 
*Comments are moderated so your comment may not appear immediately.
 
Required fields are denoted by asterisks  * .

Name:   * 
Email:
Website:

Comment (Text):

(must be plain text - HTML tags are not allowed)

Verification Code:
Verification Code
Please enter the text from the image above:
The letters are not case-sensitive.
Do not type spaces between the numbers and letters.
Only type the numbers and letters in the middle row.



LEARN - Videos & Articles

EXPERIENCE - Conferences & Cruises

SAVE - Marriage Therapy Intensives

GROW - Get a Couple Checkup

EDUCATE - Blended Family Ministry & Professional Training