When a loved one goes to prison, everyone suffers. Here's how to deal.
Placing considerable strain and distress on those left behind, an inmate's absence has a major impact on family members, loved ones and friends.
The grief and loss experienced by family members and those closest to someone who has been incarcerated is scientifically recognized as being the equivalent of encountering the death of a loved one; with the separation being equally as stressful, traumatizing and painful, according to research.
While mourning over the loss of your loved one to the correctional system is both healthy and necessary, without careful self-monitoring and useful methods for processing and dealing with grief, you may find it increasingly difficult to cope with the demands of daily living and are at risk of becoming severely depressed.
These steps below will help you to survive on the outside while your loved one is doing time:
1. Allocating a Specific Time Each Day to Grieve
In order to continue functioning in your everyday life it is necessary to allocate a specific time each day (before bedtime is highly recommended) to mourn privately and alone, quietly reminiscing and reflecting on all of the happy memories you made together as a couple or a family in the past.
Allow about an hour or two, and schedule it in as a specific appointment or activity you need to perform. Use this special time to mourn and grieve your loss openly and freely by expressing your feelings through: writing; talking; singing; smiling; laughing; crying; or even yelling. Engaging in creative outlets such as art or dance can also be very useful in allowing feelings of grief and loss to be released.
Every couple has a song that reminds them of their first date or wedding day; every mother has a certain food she loved to cook for her son; and every daughter has a certain bed-time story she loved her father to read to her.
During your grieving session it is important to allow yourself to remember and embrace the fond memories and special moments you shared in the past through significant memorabilia. You can glance over photo albums of the two of you, watch old home movies or your wedding video, read through old letters, recollect past memorable events or experiences you shared, or immerse yourself into a 'love zone' by watching a romantic film, listening to love songs, or even bringing out his old baby photos to look at.
2. Expressing Your Emotions Openly
It is essential to vent your emotions freely, as repressed trauma can be extremely detrimental to your health and well-being in both the short and long-term.
While having a close support network of friends or family members you can confide in is always a highly effective means of letting out emotions, not everybody may feel comfortable or ready to open up to others about their situation, especially due to the social stigma surrounding criminal offenders and incarceration.
For those of you who do not wish to verbalize your thoughts and feelings to other people, I would strongly recommend writing as an outlet for your emotional expression. Recording your feelings in a journal or diary will enable you to express your emotions unreservedly and at your own pace. You may even find it useful to write your loved one a letter that you have no intention of actually sending; letting him know how angry or hurt you may be for what he has done, and how his behavior has impacted the life of you and your family.
3. Maintaining a Continuing Bond
Many psychologists recommend taking the Continuing Bonds Approach to cope with the loss of a loved one by maintaining an ongoing relationship, and allowing your loved one to have a continual presence in your life.
Regular visitation; corresponding via letters and telephone; making effective mention of him in your daily conversations with family and friends; and keeping your loved one informed and involved in the goings-on of your present circumstances will help to narrow the sense of distance and separateness between you, making you feel like he is still very much an active part of your current life, even while he's there and you're here.
4. Following Ancient Mourning Traditions from Other Cultures.
If you do not have visitation rights or are not permitted by the state to have any communication with your incarcerated loved one, the ancient Japanese family ancestor mourning ritual is a beautiful grieving practice which will help you to always feel connected with your absent beloved, while he is on the inside.
In traditional Japanese culture, family members who have passed away still play an active and interdependent role in the lives of their loved ones. A large framed photo of the deceased family member is prominently positioned somewhere in the dining room, and living family members not only acknowledge the deceased's presence, but also converse with the photograph and include them in everyday family discussions, even consulting with them about difficult decisions and expressing concerns or stresses.
Daily meals are also prepared as an offering to the lost loved one, as well as gifts on specific occasions of importance. This practice will really help you to facilitate a spiritual connection with your loved one and alleviate your sense of loss and emptiness.
...Just remember though, it's a cell and not a coffin!
If you have absolutely no access to seeing or corresponding with your imprisoned loved one, you may have to keep reminding yourself that he hasn't gone forever, although it certainly can feel that way.
While the grief experienced by people who have a loved one in prison is said to be similar to having a loved one actually die, the difference is that your man, whether he be your lover, your father or your son, is in a cell and not a coffin. He may indeed be behind bars, he is still very much alive nonetheless.
This article was originally published at Suite. Reprinted with permission from the author.