Friday, August 7th, 2020

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
Creating New Normals


After a loved one dies, we long for the "old normal" but understand that part of healing is to create a "new normal." With the holidays approaching, we know we will not be celebrating them the way we use to, so we have to create a new normal particularly for the holidays.

Some of us have created this new normal by spending the holidays on cruises, reconnecting with old friends, or downsizing the holidays. It is extremely important to plan as to how we are going to spend the holidays.

One idea comes from hospice. The suggestion was to have everyone write on a slip of paper one gift they received from the loved one who died. The gifts could be: she gave me a sense of humor; she spent time with me, she encouraged me, she gave me love and acceptance. After everyone writes down the gifts received, these slips of paper are placed in a box. The box is wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, the box is opened and the slips read out loud. This reminds us that we are still using the gifts that person gave us.

Another idea for working through the holidays is to create a scrapbook of memories of the person who died. A friend of ours made one in honor of her husband. She put clippings from the funeral and cards. The book included letters written by her husband and other items. It was healing for her to create this book. I did a similar thing after my father died by writing down my father's story and collecting some of the newspapers clippings that featured him. This was not only therapeutic for me but was one way to pass on his story to my sons.

It is essential that we take care of ourselves during the holidays. This means doing things that are healthy for us. They would include: getting plenty of sleep, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising, getting a massage, watching what we eat, having realistic expectations, putting a price limit on gift giving, drawing family names in order to cut down on the number of gifts we have to purchase, and remembering to worship.

Helping others can be therapeutic. We could celebrate Thanksgiving by serving food to the homeless at Judeo-Christian Outreach or Union Mission.

When we grieve, the tendency is to isolate ourselves from others, even from family. While it is true that we may need some space, it is also true that isolation can make sadness worse.

Don't compare today with yesteryear. Life does bring changes and we need to find a way to enjoy our lives as they are.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700