How to Turn a Missed Holiday into a Special Event: Tips from and for First Responder Families

Dec 1, 2018

My husband and I were on our way to celebrate Thanksgiving at my cousin’s house. Something we’ve done for decades.There was a light rain, first of the season and the roads were slick.   A highway patrol car sped by, lights flashing. We were on our way to a festive meal with family. The patrol officer was on his or her way to the scene of an accident.  A minor spin-off or bodies strewn across the road? We never knew.

North of us, at the scene of the horrendous Camp Fire, cops and fire fighters were combing through mountains of ash and debris, looking for bodies and bone fragments. Breathing in toxic air and the anguish of people in pain at the same time we were inhaling the aroma of turkey. Some of those first responders will be there at Christmas, still on a recovery mission.

Being a first responder is never a 9-5 job.  Missing special events and holidays is a given part of the job. That’s the reality for first responder families. (I almost said that is the bad news, but  first responders know better than many of us what bad news really is). Missing holidays is one way in which first responder families (and many shift workers) are different from the typical American family. They have to be. The work demands it. Fortunately, first responder families are also creative, ingenious, and flexible. I am grateful to them for the following suggestions.

•Keep things in perspective. A missed holiday is an inconvenience, not a tragedy.

•Plan ahead. Holidays are often a collection of small rituals; shopping for the tree, baking cookies, going to worship. Prioritize what matters most to each of you. Which event is it okay to skip or handle alone? (Then take photos to share). Which one is most important to do together? Be honest.

•Remember that while you may feel sad and miss your mate, he or she is at work, missing you and the family.

•Work with technology: use your smart phones to stay in touch and share real time moments.

•Make a raincheck: plan to do something enticing together, the two of you or your entire family, after the holiday.

•Create your own holiday rituals. Mine your family history or other cultures for ideas.

•Join up with other first responder families. Open your home. Organize a group to bring or serve food to the on-duty responders.

•Donate your time. Helping others is an evidence based strategy to alleviate depression and promote a sense of well-being. The real meaning of many holidays is spiritual, not material. A time to show generosity, gratitude, and fortify your connection to others.

Whatever holidays you observe, with whom and how, I wish you, my readers, a season of celebrating what’s most important and a happy, peaceful, safe, and healthy 2019.


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