This year is different. Disagreements, misunderstandings, and stress combine as political, economic, social, and health-related concerns merge to make this one of the most challenging years any of us have faced. If you are grieving on top of everything else, your pain and griefwork have been interrupted by isolation, fear, anxiety and, possibly, numbness. Now it is summer. Upcoming special days can be difficult enough to endure anytime, but trips and gatherings of families and friends this year are sure to be challenging even if they are virtual.
Everyone needs a guide and a little concrete advice because everyone knows someone who has a habit of doing or saying just what “pushes buttons” that are better left un-pushed. You probably already know who believes what in your circle.
Take time to think about what you want to do over the next few months and even into the holiday season. It would be nice if you could choose what interests you, get plenty of rest, eat good food and stay hydrated. Aim for those things. Write them down. But, as you design your own guide, you’ll need a category for “when things go wrong” and for “obligations.”
You have options. Think ahead and even write down different scenarios. Imagine how you might feel if your uncle tells you one more time that you’ve got to get over x, y, or z. Try different responses. Find one that doesn’t make your blood pressure head skyward. When you encounter these situations in real time, you’ll have your best suggestions prepared. Come back after the first interaction and evaluate. What helped? What didn’t? Did you think of other things that allowed you to focus more on healing, budgeting, or your children than on arguments? Dealing with family members, friends, and coworkers is not easy in the best of times. If you are having a difficult time communicating, you are not alone. Everyone is worried now and may not understand what you are going through. People you care about may want you to “get back to normal” or they may even blame you for the friction. Something as small as word choice may be taken out of context when people think they know what you mean without listening to what you are saying. Decide what is important to you. Look for ways to compromise on everything else.
So, to that concrete advice … set boundaries. This might mean skipping the traditional July 4th picnic or sending a card and gift instead of attending a birthday party or wedding. Think carefully about the relationships in your life. Think carefully about the still rampant pandemic as well. What safety precautions are you able to take if you decide to attend an event or even your child’s baseball practice?
Setting boundaries does not always mean physical separation. Expecting disagreements and having your thoughts prepared ahead of time can help you keep your temper in check. It’s difficult to carry on a one-sided argument for long. Besides, in all probability, these are the people you care about, aren’t they? How do you feel about letting them express their thoughts?
Boundaries can assist you in many circumstances. Too much rough teasing that is upsetting your child is too much to allow. Mocking or bullying anyone crosses a very important line. Timeouts or early departures give breaks when a few words fail to calm situations. Use your own judgement as to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Don’t settle for less.
Being prepared and thinking ahead are useful even if it turns out you don’t need those ideas. Friendly gatherings and celebrations can be enjoyed even this year.
Do you have something difficult to say to someone else who attends? Perhaps you owe an apology for something you said the last time the family gathered. Maybe this is the first time you’ve been out with friends since losing someone very important to you. Rehearse what you want to say until you find the best way to say it. Keep it short and meaningful.
It always helps to practice. First, you get used to the sound of the words. They lose the biggest part of their shock value. Second, knowing what you will say makes it easier to say it without stumbling for words and forgetting the most important part.
This season will pass. Changes will be made, hopefully, to make us safer, stronger, happier. But the issues we face now are not ones that will end when the calendar turns to a new year. We are in this together. And we are in it for the long haul. On every front with every one of us.
Pacing — and boundaries — make surviving these hurdles alongside friends and family something we can do.