Families with Missing Loved Ones: The Holidays
Updated: Jan 31
The holiday season is almost here. This time of the year is one of joy and celebration. For
families with missing loved ones there is also great sadness and uncertainty.
Although we might wish we could stop time and wait for our loved one to return before we celebrate another Thanksgiving and Christmas, the world simply goes on. S ome of us continue on as though nothing has changed. Others may not even celebrate through such loss.
We wonder if there is a way that we can acknowledge our sorrow for the unresolved loss and still celebrate the season.
Pauline Boss, in her book Ambiguous Loss: Learning To Live With Unresolved Grief, discusses such possibilities. She spoke of the Klein family whose three sons, Ken, David, and Dan have been missing since November 10th, 1951, and explains how the parents were able to both accept that their sons may not be alive, while continuing to hope that they are.
Boss suggests that like the Kleins who “no longer deny their loss, nor do they stop working for-and hoping for-a positive outcome”, we can also live with our ambiguous loss, while still being hopeful for answers to our questions. We do not need to get rid of our circumstance nor pretend it isn’t there at all.
Having a missing family member tears apart the world we once knew. Our thoughts become wayward, nightmares terrorize, even family dynamics change. Memories of the missing person can become taken over by the ever present ‘case to be solved’.
Somewhere amongst the loss is a constant question of ‘should I grieve’? Without resolution to the case, it feels improper to grieve. Yet, there is also a need to find some way of dealing with the sorrow.
After allowing myself to grieve the unresolved loss of my missing niece, I found that my hope for answers has only grown stronger.
But, what does any of this have to do with the holiday season?
Celebrations bring up memories that should be remembered. Here are some suggestions that
may help you to celebrate the season while remembering your missing loved one.
Enjoy time with your family and friends:
It is easy to be focused on the case and the person who is not with you.
Purposefully, enjoy time with the people who are in your life. Call a friend for coffee. Go out to dinner with your spouse. Dig out the sleds and have some fun with your children. Let the people you love know they are just as important to you as the person who is missing.
Focus on the blessings:
Count them. Literally. Start with the people who are closest to you, your home, food, your pets, your job. If there are good things happening in your loved one's missing persons case, count those too.
Make the season simple:
I spoke to someone, recently, who has experienced much loss this year and her sister is also not doing well. She said they are not making any holiday plans because they just don’t know how her sister will be doing come Thanksgiving.
I loved how steadfast she was about it. She felt no pressure to bake the pies, make the cookies, buy the gifts, or make sure people are happy.
We don’t have to give up the celebrations altogether, but we can make things simpler.
I give you permission not to send out Christmas cards. You do not have to bake all day. You do
not even have to make a huge meal.
Decide what must be included in your celebrations and what can be left out.
And, ask for help!
Celebrate the person who is missing:
Make their favorite recipes, play their favorite music, include memories of them in a family prayer and in conversation.
Donate to a cause dear to your heart in their name and include a message like “missing since September 23r d , 1998. We will never stop hoping for answers”.
Try to find meaning:
For some, finding meaning comes automatic. There is an injustice, and something must be done about it. For others, the pain of the loss makes them shut down.
Know that there are many ways to find meaning. Maybe for you, simply sharing your story with someone else who is struggling or expressing your loss through art, writing, or music will bring meaning to your loss.
These ideas will never make the pain of a missing loved one go away. They can simply be ways to help you endure.
It is important to remember that everyone deals with a missing family member in different ways. Support each other right where they are.
If you find that your family is more comfortable being alone or not talking about the missing loved one, be gentle. If you need to talk and to remember, seek a friend.
We also encourage you to share your memories with us.
Feel free to leave a comment with a memory, an idea that helps you to get through, or a picture of your loved one.
Know that you are not alone.